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Today’s Question: Are We All Sociopaths in Our Own Special Ways?

Thursday, March 19th, 2015 - by Frank J. Fleming

shutterstock_133879658

Empathy. It sure is annoying at times. There’s a lot of pain and suffering out there in the world, and frankly, we just don’t have time to share in it all. We all know caring is good, but it’s just not something we can keep up all day in all situations. You may share in a coworker’s devastation when he shatters his iPhone screen but barely bat an eye when hearing news that thousands have died in a mudslide in some faraway country. Does that make you a monster?

Probably.

That’s my question for today: Are we all sociopaths in our own special ways? In my novel, Superego, I explore what it’s like to have no empathy for anyone. The main character in the story, Rico, was simply born (well, made) lacking the ability to internalize morality. Tying his shoe and killing a person are both simply actions that have no moral weight for Rico. And one thing I found surprising while writing that character was that it’s not that hard to get into that mindset. And I’m a nice guy. I don’t kick puppies, even if that would be hilarious. Still, at least for the purpose of fiction, it was rather easy to turn off empathy and look at everything from a utilitarian viewpoint. And it makes me wonder how much really separates us from being psychopaths.

Of course, if you look at a lot of the internet, it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch at all. Just read Twitter or the comments on news articles or YouTube videos — any place people can write anonymously — and it looks like the internet is filled with millions of sociopaths completely immune to the feelings of others.

Oh, I’m not talking about the commenters at PJ Media, of course. You guys are the salt of the earth. But other places, it’s awful.

And the thing is, these people aren’t all weirdos in real life. It’s just that so little separates us from being uncaring monsters that all many people need is the little buffer of the internet to stop seeing others as real people. I’ve never cared about the thoughts or dreams of the virtual Nazis I gun down in video games (or at least I hadn’t until now), and it’s just so easy to have that same dead attitude toward the ostensibly real people you see online through the filter of ones and zeroes.

And then there’s politics, which seems to be almost fueled by sociopathy. We frequently stop looking at people who disagree with us as fellow human beings. Look at how the Tea Party has been portrayed by many: Basically the Left took all the dark corners of their id and projected them upon their political enemies. And people on the Right sometimes talk about those they disagree with as “hippies” and talk about “punching” them, and it’s crazy. Also, just look at the quality of people we elect; it’s like our whole election system is designed to sort out the worst sociopaths in society and put them in charge.

If you think nothing of lying and manipulating people to your own ends, we can probably get a fundraiser going for you. Yes we can!

So is the solution to treasure empathy more? Absolutely not. That’s led to some of the most insufferable sociopaths of all: the “caring” sociopaths. Look at the Social Justice Warriors. They claim their actions are about empathizing with all the people society has victimized, yet all the SJWs ever seem to do is demonize people they label as “uncaring.” It’s like they’ve taken the otherization of the worst racists of the past and just reapplied it in new and inventive ways against people they love to dismissively label as sexists, racists, homophobes, or transphobes (and there are lots of good reasons to dislike Michael Bay’s Transformer movies, so I don’t get the need for the negative label).

It’s like the ability for a human to feel empathy is so limited that by focusing so much empathy on certain groups they’ve lost it for everyone else. Thus by having people focus on empathy, we simply have sociopaths wielding caring like a club.

And maybe that’s the problem: Humans are just limited in how much we can care. If we care intensely for some things, we become near-sociopaths about other things. So I’d say the antidote to being a sociopath isn’t empathy — which is arrogant in its own way by the whole presumption that you could really understand another person. Instead, we need more humility. When you’re humble, you don’t presume to know how someone else feels, but you also don’t tell them how you think they should feel.

And watch out for politicians who think they have empathy. That’s how we got trillions in entitlements we can’t afford and have them treating us like children, passing laws that tell us what size sodas we can drink. A humble politician, on the other hand, wouldn’t presume to tell us what to do, or think he could spend our money better than we can. Humble politicians would be awesome — if our election system weren’t specifically designed to prevent anyone humble from ever getting into office.

So, while you can’t feel empathy for everyone, the way to keep from being a sociopath is to be humble enough to know your limitations. So while you don’t have to always care, at least care that you don’t care.

******

Please join the discussion on Twitter. The essay above is the twenty-seventh in volume 2 of the cultural discussions between the writers of PJ Lifestyle and Liberty Island exploring the history of counter-cultures, the future of conservatism and the role of new, emerging counter-cultures in restoring American exceptionalism. Want to contribute? Check out the articles below, reach out, and lets brainstorm: @DaveSwindle

Volume II

  1. Frank J. Fleming on February 26, 2015: What Is the Future of Government? Why It Won’t Look Like Star Trek 
  2. Aaron C. Smith on February 26, 2015: What Is the Future of Superheroes? Why They Need To Start Killing Super-Villains
  3. Mark Ellis on February 26, 2016: What Is the Future of Gen-X Manhood? Adam Carolla Vs Chuck Palahniuk?
  4. David S. Bernstein on February 26, 2015: What is the Future of Fiction? You’ll Be Shocked Who’s Fighting the New Conservative Counter-Culture
  5. Aaron C. Smith on March 2, 2015: The House Loses: Why Season 3 of House of Cards Utterly Disappoints
  6. Michael Walsh on March 2: What the Left Doesn’t Get About Robert A. Heinlein
  7. Frank J. Fleming on March 3: 8 Frank Rules For How Not to Tweet
  8. Susan L.M. Goldberg on March 4: 7 Reasons Why Backstrom Is Perfect Counter-Culture Conservative TV
  9. Frank J. Fleming on March 5: What Is the Future of Religion?
  10. Aaron C. Smith on March 5: The Future of Religion: Why Judeo-Christian Values Are More Important Than Science
  11. Spencer Klavan on March 5: Not Religion’s Future: ISIS and the Art of Destruction
  12. Chris Queen on March 7: 5 Reasons Why Big Hero 6 Belongs Among The Pantheon Of Disney Classics
  13. Jon Bishop on March 8: Why I Am Catholic
  14. Frank J. Fleming on March 11: 6 Frank Tips For Being Funny On the Internet
  15. Becky Graebner on March 11: 5 Things I Learned In My First 6 Months As a Small Business Owner
  16. Frank J. Fleming on March 12: This Is Today’s Question: What Does It Mean To Be ‘Civilized’?
  17. Mark Ellis on March 12: The Future of Civilized Society: One World
  18. Aaron C. Smith on March 12: Why Civilization Is a Gift to Bullies
  19. David S. Bernstein on March 12: Nihilism & Feminism for Girls: Has Judd Apatow Let Lena Dunham Self-Destruct Intentionally?
  20. Susan L.M. Goldberg on March 15: Why I Am Jewish
  21. Chris Queen on March 15: Why I Am Non-Denominational Christian
  22. Allston on March 16: Counter-Culture Wars, Part 1: Why the Fellow Travelers Hijacked Folk Music
  23. Ronald R. Cherry on March 17: How To Untangle Orwellian Doublethink: 4 Secrets To Help You Spot BS
  24. Dave Swindle on March 18: Do Fairy Tales & Scary Stories Hide Secrets For Defeating Evil?
  25. Walter Hudson on March 18: The Case Against Freedom, Part I: What Are ‘Externalities’?
  26. Chris Queen on March 18: Can Conservatives & Libertarians Unify? A Review of The Conservatarian Manifesto

See the first volume of articles from 2014 and January and February 2015 below:

2014 – Starting the Discussion…

  1. Sarah Hoyt, March 22 2014: Interview: Adam Bellow Unveils New Media Publishing Platform Liberty Island
  2. David S. Bernstein, June 20 2014: What Is Liberty Island?
  3. Adam Bellow at National Review, June 30 2014 kicking off the discussion: Let Your Right Brain Run Free
  4. Dave Swindle on September 7, 2014: Why Culture Warriors Should Understand the 10 Astounding Eras of Disney Animation’s Evolution
  5. Dave Swindle on September 9, 2014: The 50 Greatest Counter-Culture Films of All Time, Part I
  6. Dave Swindle on September 19, 2014: The 50 Greatest Counter-Culture Films of All Time, Part II
  7. David S. Bernstein on November 19, 2014: 5 Leaders of the New Conservative Counter-Culture
  8. Liberty Island on November 22nd, 2014: A Unique Team of 33 Creative Writers
  9. Dave Swindle on November 25, 2014: 7 Reasons Why Thanksgiving Will Be My Last Day on Facebook
  10. Kathy Shaidle on November 25, 2014: Is America Overdue for a Satanic Revival? (Part One)
  11. Dave Swindle on December 2, 2014: My Growing List of 65 Read-ALL-Their-Books Authors
  12. Kathy Shaidle on December 3, 2014: Is America Overdue for a Satanic Revival? (Part Two)
  13. Mark Elllis on December 9, 2014: Ozzy Osbourne and the Conservative Tent: Is He In?
  14. Aaron C. Smith on December 22, 2014: The Villains You Choose

January-February 2015 – Volume I

  1. Paula Bolyard on January 1, 2015: 7 New Year’s Resolutions for Conservatives
  2. Susan L.M. Goldberg on January 1, 2015: The Plan to Take Back Feminism in 2015
  3. Kathy Shaidle on January 4, 2015: Did the 1960s Really Happen? (Part One)
  4. Andrew Klavan on January 5, 2015: In 2015 The New Counter-Culture Needs to Be Offensive!
  5. Clay Waters on January 5, 2015: The Decline and Fall of Russell Brand
  6. Mark Ellis on January 5, 2015: How Conservatives Can Counter the Likable Liberal
  7. Audie Cockings on January 5, 2015: Entertainers Have Shorter Lifespans
  8. Aaron C. Smith on January 6, 2015: How Mario Cuomo Honestly Defined Zero-Sum Liberalism
  9. Stephen McDonald on January 10, 2015: Why the New Counter-Culture Should Make Strength Central to Its Identity
  10. Stephen McDonald on January 16, 2015: The Metaphorical War
  11. Kathy Shaidle on January 19, 2015: Did the 1960s Really Happen? (Part Two)
  12. Frank J. Fleming on January 20, 2015: What if Red Dawn Happened, But It Was Islamic Terrorists Instead of Communists?
  13. Mark Ellis on January 21, 2015: Adam Carolla: The Quintessential Counterculture Conservative?
  14. Aaron C. Smith on January 29, 2015: Objection! Why TV’s The Good Wife Isn’t Good Law
  15. David Solway on February 2, 2015: For a Song To Be Good, Must It Tell The Truth?
  16. Mark Ellis on February 6, 2015: President Me: Adam Carolla Vs. the Scourge of Narcissism
  17. David Solway on February 6, 2015: ‘Imagine’ a World Without the Brotherhood
  18. Kathy Shaidle on February 9, 2015: Was Rod McKuen the Secret Godfather of Punk Rock?
  19. Aaron C. Smith on February 10, 2015: Kick NBC While It’s Down: Use The Williams Scandal to Set the Terms of the 2016 Debates
  20. Spencer Klavan on February 12, 2015: How to Apologize for Your Thought Crimes
  21. Kathy Shaidle on February 16, 2015: David Byrne: Creepy Liberal Hypocrite
  22. David P. Goldman on February 18, 2015: Understanding This Bloody Truth About the Bible Will Save Your Life
  23. Lisa De Pasquale on February 20, 2015: Why American Sniper Is a Much Better Love Story Than Fifty Shades of Grey
  24. Spencer Klavan on February 24, 2015: How Bad Ideology Destroys Good TV: Why Glee Crashed and Burned

Image illustration via shutterstock /  

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Do Fairy Tales & Scary Stories Hide Secrets For Defeating Evil?

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015 - by Dave Swindle

I can’t wait to read Andrew Klavan’s new novel Werewolf Cop. #fiction #Culture #crime

A video posted by David Swindle (@daveswindlepjm) on

 

Dear Andrew,

I’m excited about your new novel Werewolf Cop. It looks like just the catalyst needed to start a new discussion about fantasy books and fairy tale culture. As I mentioned last week, The Wife and I have grown obsessed with the TV show Grimm on Amazon Prime. We’re almost done binge-streaming through the third season and will probably plunk down and pay for the fourth. (Amazon realizes that by providing all of a show’s first seasons for free they can addict the viewer such that we will regard it as an entirely reasonable deal to pay for a whole season’s worth of new episodes.)

 

Is anybody else as into the #Grimm TV show as @aprilbey_ & me lately?

A video posted by David Swindle (@daveswindlepjm) on

 

The show’s premise grows richer as the seasons progress: it’s a detective program except in each episode part of the mystery involves figuring out which supernatural, fairy tale creature has appeared in a real world version. The trick for doing this requires trips back to the hero’s aunt’s old trailer to begin rifling through the giant collection of antique journals written by previous generations of “Grimm” monster hunters in the centuries since the Crusades. (In the show’s mythos the original Grimms were Knights Templar…)

I guess the main reason I’ve come to like the show so much is that one can understand it in kind of a *literal* context too — that the Grimm fairy tales and folklore in general actually aren’t diversions, but instead they have ideas about culture and human nature and evil encoded in them. And that’s why they’re such powerful root stories that get remade again and again.

In the past I’ve often attacked “pop culture polytheism” — the way that many in our culture today choose to make TV and movie figures a kind of substitute pantheon of gods for them to worship. But there’s a positive side to this also — for shows like Grimm to really work they have to draw on real, historical evil and reinvent them in the show’s fantasy context. It’s hard to count the number of times in Grimm when the myth of child sacrifice has been redone in some fashion…

So as I start studying the original Grimm tales more, I’m also going to consider other “grimoires” of strange stories that might have more practical, real world application. I’ve been longing to get a handle on Alice in Wonderland for awhile, so for my fantasy-inspired video blogging, I’m going to start trying to make sense of them too:

Could this be a #secret to understand #AliceInWonderland Better?

A video posted by David Swindle (@daveswindlepjm) on

 

So in looking at the fantasy genre, I’m going to think about it in both past and present. On the one hand I’ll weigh the many stories of Grimm and Lewis Carroll and their hidden archetypal meanings. On the other, I’ll look at your novel Werewolf Cop, and also a very different, more female-centric fantasy, Hannah’s novel Bulfinch:

 

How can #fantasy and folklore stories be tools for victory in everyday life!

A video posted by David Swindle (@daveswindlepjm) on

 

And I’ll tap several writers I have in mind to start exploring these fantasy themes with me.

(If anybody wants to join in then send me an email to DaveSwindlePJM AT Gmail.com, tweet your ideas to @DaveSwindle, or tag me in an Instagram video @DaveSwindlePJM.)

Oh, and I found your book on the doorstep yesterday after we arrived home from the art studio:

 

Andrew Klavan’s new novel Werewolf Cop arrived yesterday! #SiberianHusky #fantasy

A video posted by Thoth, Ma’at & Husky Familiar (@thothandmaatmarried) on

 

Best wishes and thanks for all your inspiration,
David

*****

Please join the discussion on Twitter. The Instragram video-letter above is the twenty-fourth in volume 2 of the cultural discussions between the writers of PJ Lifestyle and Liberty Island exploring the history of counter-cultures, the future of conservatism and the role of new, emerging counter-cultures in restoring American exceptionalism. Want to contribute? Check out the articles below, reach out, and lets brainstorm: @DaveSwindle

Volume II

  1. Frank J. Fleming on February 26, 2015: What Is the Future of Government? Why It Won’t Look Like Star Trek 
  2. Aaron C. Smith on February 26, 2015: What Is the Future of Superheroes? Why They Need To Start Killing Super-Villains
  3. Mark Ellis on February 26, 2016: What Is the Future of Gen-X Manhood? Adam Carolla Vs Chuck Palahniuk?
  4. David S. Bernstein on February 26, 2015: What is the Future of Fiction? You’ll Be Shocked Who’s Fighting the New Conservative Counter-Culture
  5. Aaron C. Smith on March 2, 2015: The House Loses: Why Season 3 of House of Cards Utterly Disappoints
  6. Michael Walsh on March 2: What the Left Doesn’t Get About Robert A. Heinlein
  7. Frank J. Fleming on March 3: 8 Frank Rules For How Not to Tweet
  8. Susan L.M. Goldberg on March 4: 7 Reasons Why Backstrom Is Perfect Counter-Culture Conservative TV
  9. Frank J. Fleming on March 5: What Is the Future of Religion?
  10. Aaron C. Smith on March 5: The Future of Religion: Why Judeo-Christian Values Are More Important Than Science
  11. Spencer Klavan on March 5: Not Religion’s Future: ISIS and the Art of Destruction
  12. Chris Queen on March 7: 5 Reasons Why Big Hero 6 Belongs Among The Pantheon Of Disney Classics
  13. Jon Bishop on March 8: Why I Am Catholic
  14. Frank J. Fleming on March 11: 6 Frank Tips For Being Funny On the Internet
  15. Becky Graebner on March 11: 5 Things I Learned In My First 6 Months As a Small Business Owner
  16. Frank J. Fleming on March 12: This Is Today’s Question: What Does It Mean To Be ‘Civilized’?
  17. Mark Ellis on March 12: The Future of Civilized Society: One World
  18. Aaron C. Smith on March 12: Why Civilization Is a Gift to Bullies
  19. David S. Bernstein on March 12: Nihilism & Feminism for Girls: Has Judd Apatow Let Lena Dunham Self-Destruct Intentionally?
  20. Susan L.M. Goldberg on March 15: Why I Am Jewish
  21. Chris Queen on March 15: Why I Am Non-Denominational Christian
  22. Allston on March 16: Counter-Culture Wars, Part 1: Why the Fellow Travelers Hijacked Folk Music
  23. Ronald R. Cherry on March 17: How To Untangle Orwellian Doublethink: 4 Secrets To Help You Spot BS

See the first volume of articles from 2014 and January and February 2015 below:

2014 – Starting the Discussion…

January 2015 – Volume I

February 2015

Read bullet | Comments »

This Is Today’s Question: What Does It Mean to Be ‘Civilized’?

Thursday, March 12th, 2015 - by Frank J. Fleming

No one expects to be beaten to death by Mr. Peanut. Of course not — the dude wears a top hat and a monocle. And even though he carries a cane and could easily start to bludgeon you with it at any moment, that possibility has never entered your brain, because Mr. Peanut is the picture of civility.

But what does it really mean to be civilized, and why do humans (and some legumes) treasure that concept?

I think most of us see civility as man moving away from our more brutal animal nature. We don’t just attack anyone outside our immediate families, we try to resolve disputes through reasoning, and we follow a complex set of codes to get along with each other.

For instance, despite the cat throwing up on my bed for the millionth time, it never crossed my mind to kill and eat the cat — or at least not eat it. Because that would be uncivilized. And while these civilized rules of behavior may seem arbitrary at times, it’s this miracle of civility that allows millions and millions of humans to work together to achieve unimaginable things, like building cities with electricity and infrastructure, landing on the moon, and having a McDonald’s within a five-minute drive no matter where you are.

As self-sufficient as ancient man could be, his iPhone didn’t get an update every year; it takes civility — people knowing they can trust each other and won’t suddenly bash in each other’s heads with rocks — to be able to play Candy Crush on a larger screen with higher resolution.

But can civility also be a weakness?

I explore this quite a bit in my novel, Superego, in which the protagonist, Rico, is a psychopath and works as a hitman, so he doesn’t quite fit in with civilized society. In fact, he looks upon most of civilization with disdain. He works in a bloody fight for survival among cutthroat criminal syndicates, and thus the average civilized man, blissfully ignorant of the violence, seems rather frivolous to him — sort of like how we look down on hipsters.

And you have to wonder if this is how much of the world looks at us. Right now, you’re just perusing the internet, reading an article written by some goofball, while other people around the world are locked in civil war or struggling daily to survive. Does this make us a better people, or more inane?

And can this “civility” end up opposing our basic instinct of survival? In Superego, it’s up to the psychopath to deal with a terrorist threat, as the civilized police force just doesn’t have the resolve to deal with it directly. And the civilized model of government — not wanting to step beyond its bounds or antagonize anyone — is too meek to deal with the criminal organizations, which are terrorizing planets.

Does that remind you of us now?

We can be frustrated by tiny, weaker countries we could wipe off the map with the push of a button, but they know we won’t do that because we’re civilized. Does that makes us better people to be that peaceful? Or are we just in denial of the violent reality of the world?

Overall, I’d say civility is a great thing, but we run into problems because we’re just not that comfortable with it. We’re like apes in tuxedos — we put on airs of being refined, but deep down we’re still savage animals struggling to fit in (and the suits are kind of itchy). It just doesn’t feel completely right to us, and you can tell that by seeing how much popular fiction is about what happens when we no longer have the protection of the civilized world. When tragedy strikes, when war breaks out, when zombies walk the streets — that’s when we consider things as becoming interesting. That’s what we want to see. It’s as if we consider our true nature to be whatever it is when the trappings of civilization are removed.

And like the ape struggling to understand what a cumberbund is, we’re just not always that good at civility. That’s why it sometimes gets in the way of the survival of society, because we’re struggling to be a better people while not exactly knowing how to do that. For example, many think that removing weapons like guns from society will make us more civilized, but those people, who are ignorant of firearms, react in fear of a gun about the same way a caveman would, which makes the supposed advancement more like a regression. The orangutan tried to tie his bow tie but ended up choking himself with it.

Still, we’re going to muddle forward. We’re going to try to become a better, more peaceful, more cooperative people, all while not getting wiped out by barbarians like common Romans. We may not always know the right path, but if we ever hope to one day see an iPhone 27, we’re going to figure it out. Just keep in mind that no matter how civilized we become, there’s still that animal inside that will never feel quite comfortable. If a peanut is anything like a person (and why wouldn’t it be?), while Mr. Peanut will never beat anyone to death with his cane, he’s certainly thought about it.

*****

Please join the discussion on Twitter. The essay above is the sixteenth in volume 2 of the cultural discussions between the writers of PJ Lifestyle and Liberty Island exploring the history of counter-cultures, the future of conservatism and the role of new, emerging counter-cultures in restoring American exceptionalism. Want to contribute? Check out the articles below, reach out, and lets brainstorm: @DaveSwindle

Volume II

  1. Frank J. Fleming on February 26, 2015: What Is the Future of Government? Why It Won’t Look Like Star Trek 
  2. Aaron C. Smith on February 26, 2015: What Is the Future of Superheroes? Why They Need To Start Killing Super-Villains
  3. Mark Ellis on February 26, 2016: What Is the Future of Gen-X Manhood? Adam Carolla Vs Chuck Palahniuk?
  4. David S. Bernstein on February 26, 2015: What is the Future of Fiction? You’ll Be Shocked Who’s Fighting the New Conservative Counter-Culture
  5. Aaron C. Smith on March 2, 2015: The House Loses: Why Season 3 of House of Cards Utterly Disappoints
  6. Michael Walsh on March 2: What the Left Doesn’t Get About Robert A. Heinlein
  7. Frank J. Fleming on March 3: 8 Frank Rules For How Not to Tweet
  8. Susan L.M. Goldberg on March 4: 7 Reasons Why Backstrom Is Perfect Counter-Culture Conservative TV
  9. Frank J. Fleming on March 5: What Is the Future of Religion?
  10. Aaron C. Smith on March 5: The Future of Religion: Why Judeo-Christian Values Are More Important Than Science
  11. Spencer Klavan on March 5: Not Religion’s Future: ISIS and the Art of Destruction
  12. Chris Queen on March 7: 5 Reasons Why Big Hero 6 Belongs Among The Pantheon Of Disney Classics
  13. Jon Bishop on March 8: Why I Am Catholic
  14. Frank J. Fleming on March 11: 6 Frank Tips For Being Funny On the Internet
  15. Becky Graebner on March 11: 5 Things I Learned In My First 6 Months As a Small Business Owner

See the first volume of articles from 2014 and January and February 2015 below:

2014 – Starting the Discussion…

January 2015 – Volume I

February 2015

Read bullet | 11 Comments »

6 Frank Tips for Being Funny on the Internet

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015 - by Frank J. Fleming

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I’m offended by pretty much everything. See, I’m a conservative Christian, and there’s barely anything in pop culture that I don’t find offensive on some level, with all the sex and language and poor production quality. Still, in being offended by everything, I can’t even hope to compete with the modern day secular puritans on the left. The Social Justice Warriors invent at least one new thing a day that highly offends them (“You can’t call your one-year-old child a ‘he’; it hasn’t officially identified its gender!”). You couldn’t even keep up with them if you wanted to — by the SJW’s estimation, the average person commits five hate crimes before their morning coffee — and a sixth during the coffee if you don’t like it dark. Eventually, the only way to be politically correct will be to shuffle around staring at your own feet while mumbling incoherently. As an introvert, that’s perfectly fine with me, but not everyone is as excited.

What this means is that the right has to take over being funny. The left keeps making an ever longer “That’s not funny!” list and is starting to get hoisted on its own petard of speech policing, and soon they will lose the ability to make jokes at all, as they turn into those shuffling mumblers I talked about. So that leaves it to the stuffed shirts on the right to be the free spirits and the funny ones.

The only problem is I’m pretty sure science says conservatives can’t be funny. Like I’ve read that various places. Since we don’t like taxes, we’re incapable of humor. We may think we’re funny, and we may laugh at what each other say, but that’s all a shared delusion. We just don’t get comedy, as our best idea of a joke is to push a poor person down the stairs (which is funny because he doesn’t have health insurance).

But luckily, I’m a writer (I just released a science fiction novel, Superego, plus look at what I’m doing right now) and a scientist (prove I’m not), so I’ve written this short guide to being funny. And it absolutely, positively guaranteed to make you at least as funny as Dane Cook.

BEING FUNNY ADVICE

1. Imply, don’t say.

It’s hard to teach wit, but the best advice I can give you is to think, “Is there a less obvious way to state this?” Let’s say you notice someone has a head shaped like a pumpkin. You could simply say, “That guy’s head is shaped like a pumpkin!” But that is not witty. Instead you need to just imply that the guy’s head looks like a pumpkin, like this: “We need to tell Linus and Charlie Brown that we found him.” Instead of directly making the “head looks like a pumpkin” connection, you take a detour, and the listener gets to make the connection and be clever himself. That’s what makes wit so special; you’re making a connection with the audience that says, “I think the same as you.” But the length of the detour is important. Too short, not clever enough. Too long, it’s too obscure, and people won’t get the joke (“I bet his head is rich in lutein”). In my estimation, the perfect joke should take about one tenth to two tenths of a second for your audience to process it and understand the punchline. So pull out a stopwatch and work on being funny.

Seriously, though, don’t ever make fun of someone for having a pumpkin-shaped head. They can’t help that, and it would be super-mean.

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2. Don’t shock.

A cheap way to do humor is to go for shock value. If you push the line on something, you’ll get a few laughs, but it’s not an enduring form of humor, as what’s shocking one day wears off quickly. So don’t cop out and make gasp-inducing jokes about punching hippies or pushing poor people down stairs; that’s just hackish.

3. Make fun of the Irish.

As part of not relying on shock humor, stay away from racist jokes, of course. But people do have this impulse to have an “other” group to make fun of. Just look at how people on the left always go after the Tea Party, unloading all the dark parts of their own ids onto whatever they imagine that group to be. So pick some group you won’t get in trouble for making fun of — and a good group for this is the Irish. I make fun of them all the time, and no one has called me out on it. Because really, who cares about those inbred, drunken potato-lickers?

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What Is the Future of Religion?

Thursday, March 5th, 2015 - by Frank J. Fleming

Science! It’s given us lasers and spaceships and explained the many great mysteries of life, like what is the sun, where does lightning come from, and what’s the deal with platypuses? Every day, the men in the lab coats tease out more secrets from this universe, and technology solves more of our problems (remember back in the day, when if you were lost in the woods, you couldn’t pull out your phone and quickly look up the filmography of the guy who played Balki in Perfect Strangers?).

So as we go into a future with robots and a greater knowledge of quantum physics, what exactly do we need thousands-of-years-old texts on morality for?

That’s my question: What is the future of religion?

As part of my novel, Superego, I take a look at religion hundreds of years in the future, when mankind has spread throughout the universe and interacted with numerous other sentient lifeforms. And this is all viewed through the lens of the protagonist, Rico, who is a coldly rational, conscienceless psychopath (though probably still not as irritating an atheist as Richard Dawkins). From his perspective, Rico finds faith to be a rather odd thing, as people can — and often do — just decide to believe in any nonsense they, for some reason, find appealing.

But as society advances in technology and knowledge, will we still hold on at all to what many consider superstitions of old? Frankly, I can’t remember ever seeing the Jetsons attend church. Plus, to many people science is increasingly replacing the need for religion. We can now understand the world through rational thought… and even people not that good at rational thought love science — there are things like the “I f-ing love science!” Facebook group basically turning science into a fetish of dumb people.

Science certainly seems more exciting than some ancient texts that don’t even mention T. rexes or black holes.

So maybe our future will be one where we only look to science for answers (“Oh, Men of the White Coat, tell us what to believe, and it shall be believed!”). We will be beings of pure logical thought with no need for the vagaries of religion.

The only problem is that people don’t work that way. Even as a child, I saw how the idea of a purely logical being like Spock (R.I.P.) was in fact illogical, because while logic is a great tool for solving problems, it never tells you what problems to solve.

From a purely detached standpoint, neither working hard at a career to be successful nor curling up in a hole to die is a more logical thing to do than the other until you add some values to the equation (for instance, how much you treasure money versus good old hole-sleeping). And values do not come from logic but from the irrational parts of our minds. And it’s that irrational drive that causes people to create and build things, and something purely logical like a computer is rather useless until one of us irrational idiots starts mashing its keyboard to either write some code or comment on a YouTube video.

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8 Frank Rules for How Not to Tweet

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015 - by Frank J. Fleming

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What is the purpose of writing? Did you say to share your thoughts? To influence? To educate? To entertain? To conjure made-up worlds and share them with others?

Well, that’s all nonsense. The purpose of writing is to demonstrate to everyone how clever you are. And that’s why Twitter is so great, because it gives you a constant opportunity to show the world  — including famous celebrities — your genius, with instant feedback.

Now, as you may know, I’ve blogged for well over a decade, written numerous columns, written several books, worked on scripts for a video series coming out later this year, and just released my first novel (Superego, available in ebook, paperback, and Audible versions, if I haven’t mentioned it), so by now I’ve picked up a few writing tips that are worth sharing. I’m going to start by talking about Twitter, which I have been on since January 2009, and where I’ve built up a pretty decent following (@IMAO_).

A few of you are probably asking, “What’s Twitter?” If that’s you, just leave now. What are you even doing on the internet? Stop wasting my time.

I think everyone else is pretty aware of Twitter by now. What I like about it is that you only have 140 characters, so it forces you to get to the core of your idea if you wish to express it within those constraints. A lot of people cover up the fact that they don’t have anything to say by using a lot of verbiage. You’ve probably seen people in comment sections ranting for paragraphs without a single coherent thought — I mean, none of you, though. I’m sure you’re all nice people. I’m talking about other nuts. But anyway, there’s no room for that on Twitter. With that small a space, you’d better have something to say, and it had better be sharp.

Also, for a writer like me, Twitter is a great marketing tool for marketing things, like my new novel (Superego, available in ebook, paperback, and Audible versions, if I haven’t mentioned it). You already have all these people listening to you and can potentially get quickly retweeted by people with even bigger followings and reach thousands of people.

But to do that, you have to build up a following. And, of course, you do that by referring back to the purpose of writing: demonstrating how clever you are. But there are number of pitfalls to avoid in tweeting, and I am here to help. Because I love you. And America.

1. Don’t be a pest.

This is a tough one starting out, as you won’t have many followers, and you’ll mainly need to reply to people to get attention. You’ll just need to do this sparingly and make sure you have something worthwhile (i.e., clever) to say before you reply at anyone. If you tweet at too many people, Twitter will actually suspend your account. And it’s well deserved; you shouldn’t have been bothering me, because I’m very important.

And don’t just come out and ask someone to follow you. That’s pathetic. You come off like a beggar rattling his tin cup. The way you get follows is by being awesome so that people would feel they’d be missing out in life if they didn’t get to further see your wisdom. Distinguish yourself with quality.

2. dnt writ lik idit.

When you’re getting used to the space constraints on Twitter, you might find yourself abbreviating words. This should be a last resort, though. Always instead try to figure out how to express your thought in fewer words, because wen u writ lik dis u luk lik a mron. If people see that, they’re going to expect your next tweet to be about how fire can’t melt steel. And use proper punctuation, grammar, and capitalization when you can. You’re not being chased by wild boars; you have the time.

3. Don’t steal jokes.

The joke thief is to the internet what the horse thief was to the wild west. Many people, after seeing a really clever tweet, are tempted to tweet it as their own with maybe a slight variation — and some people have made successful Twitter feeds doing just this — but resist that temptation. Joke thieves are the worst. Joke theft is worse than murder. Even Hitler wouldn’t steal jokes.

But it can happen accidentally, too, so get off my back.

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What is the Future of Assassination? Meet Rico, A Genetically-Enhanced Hitman

Thursday, February 26th, 2015 - by Liberty Island

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Killing is ugly. A living body is designed to survive; killing opposes its entire purpose. Nothing dies in an artful manner — a body is just damaged until it fails to sustain itself anymore. Put enough holes in something, and it will eventually stop moving, stop functioning. And often a living creature’s last moments are spent in a pointless struggle, twisting and writhing in a vain attempt to continue its existence. I’ve seen it many times. I’ve known it myself.

But that’s just an aesthetic quibble. The ugliness of death aside, I always enjoyed the challenge of being a hitman.

The receptionist was ignoring me. She (I wasn’t familiar with the species — purplish with tentacley things on her head — but she appeared to be the childbearing variety) was talking on the phone in a clearly non-work-related manner while I waited. We were in a spacious lobby with walls and floors of glass and ivory. Everything was curved, not many hard angles where surfaces met. Several bunches of flowers and other potted plants decorated the walls and otherwise empty floor space. I noted one exit to my right and a hallway leading further into the building to my left — so I only had two directions to be wary of.

I knocked on the hard white top of her desk. She finished her call and looked at me with gray eyes. “I’m sorry for the wait, but I don’t think this resort is able to accommodate your species.”

“That’s okay. I’m actually here on business. My name is Rico, and I am here to see Chal Naus.”

“He didn’t say he was expecting anyone, and he doesn’t see anyone without an appointment. And business hours ended half an hour ago.”

“No, he is not expecting me, but I do need to see him personally. And I specifically came after business hours because I wanted to be polite and not interrupt whatever it is he does here.”

Her face tensed. I had no idea what that meant — and didn’t care. “I can’t help you. I think you need to leave.” Her tenor had changed — I think she was threatening me. She wasn’t very good at it. Perhaps I could teach her something.

The job of a hitman is always changing, always invigorating, and it often requires that I perform at my best. Plus, it makes me get out and interact with people — which is good, since I’m basically anti-social. I have trouble seeing that as my fault, though; I rarely encounter an individual worth talking to. Everyone seems so pointless, coasting through drab, rote lives. They have nothing useful to say, nothing useful to do. They just are.

I partly blame civilization for that. It allows people to get through life with so little effort. Take this receptionist. Most animals exist in a daily life-and-death struggle, and if they don’t give it everything they’ve got, they end up with that messy death I just described. The receptionist, on other hand, just had to sit at a desk and smile… and she couldn’t even be bothered to put much effort into that. I can’t imagine why someone would waste her life going to a job she doesn’t care to do. I can’t imagine such a person would have anything to say that might be worth listening to. So I’m anti-social.

But I’m working on it.

Sure, I find pretty much all sentients boring in their normal lives, but that doesn’t mean they lack the potential to be interesting. It’s just a matter of focus. No matter how lazy or unmotivated a person is, if he feels his life is on the line, he will devote every available resource to not being killed. Civilization goes out the door, and pure survival kicks in. When people are that awake and that focused, they intrigue me. So you can say I have a job that brings out the best in people.

“Are you familiar with the Nystrom syndicate? I am here on their behalf, so one way or another I will speak to your boss. In person.”

Her eyes grew wider. I could have guessed at the meaning of that but, again, I didn’t care. “Is he aware you are coming?”

I thought I’d covered that. Sometimes — due to my lack of social skills — I’m not as clear as I think I am. So I tried again. “I’ll make this simple: You tell Chal Naus that I am going to speak to him personally and that I will kill anyone who stands in my way, starting with you.” I didn’t think she was actually going to get in my way, but as I said, people can be quite focused when they feel their lives are on the line. “I’m going to go sit down while I wait for a response.” I smiled politely, wondering what color her species bled; you can never tell by skin color.

I sat down in one of the odd circular chairs across from the desk. The purple, tentacle-headed receptionist was back on the phone, talking much more frantically than she had before. Soon six other creatures entered the lobby: larger tentacle-headed things I assumed were male. I think they were supposed to intimidate me, and the tense faces they wore were probably their angry expressions.

I remained seated and relaxed, arms folded. There is little in body language that is universal between species, but ignoring someone is a good way to assert dominance; it communicates that I do not find an individual or group to be threatening or even worth my time.

A screen appeared on one of the walls. On the screen was the image of another creature of the same species, and admittedly able to judge by only a small sample, he seemed obese. That wasn’t necessarily a weakness — it could be a cultural thing.

“That is Chal Naus,” Dip, my “partner,” chimed in my ear.

*****

Join us again next week for another excerpt from SuperEgo and more provocative essays from Frank J. Fleming and the Liberty Island team.

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What is the Future of Fiction? You’ll Be Shocked Who’s Fighting the New Conservative Counter-Culture

Thursday, February 26th, 2015 - by David S. Bernstein

Many conservatives are upset that American Sniper and director Clint Eastwood were (predictably) snubbed at the Oscars; but they shouldn’t be. The fact that a film with an overtly conservative message, directed by an openly conservative pop-culture icon, has grossed more than $400 million is a sign that conservative messages hold a powerful resonance with the American public.

American Sniper is hardly an aberration.

When high-quality entertainment that reflects conservative and/or libertarian ideals is presented to the public, it finds a broad and enthusiastic audience. From the various Marvel Films superhero barn-burners to novels by authors such as James Patterson, Brad Thor, and the late Vince Flynn; from graphic novels like Frank Miller’s 300 to TV shows like Downton Abbey, great stories with conservative sensibilities have proven to be commercial winners.

Note what all of these examples have in common, though: none of them are political polemics. Rather, they are well-crafted pieces of middle-brow entertainment, aimed first and foremost at telling a compelling story that (as any great story does) reveal truths about the human condition. Any specific political or ideological message is, thankfully, secondary.

It’s exciting (and rare) when a surge of creativity jibes with consumer preferences. In fact, I believe we are witnessing the start of a great renaissance in conservative creative culture. As the Publisher of Liberty Island, I’m continually impressed at the quality of the short fiction and novels that come across my desk from self-described conservatives and libertarians. These are not folks who can get their scripts produced in Hollywood or on Broadway, nor can they expect mainstream publishing houses to take a chance on their novels. However, they are the farm team, the next generation of conservative creators who will replace the Eastwoods and the Flynns.

Like any renaissance, this one requires nurturing and encouragement of nascent creators and that is a job we take very seriously. All of this has come with a surprising finding: we’ve found that the greatest enemy of creative conservatives isn’t the liberal cultural establishment; after all, it’s easy to bypass gatekeepers in the age of digital distribution.

Rather, the real enemy is a DC-based conservative establishment that is indifferent or outright hostile to cultural pursuits. They argue that building a conservative counterculture is a waste of time, and will make no difference. Some even go so far as to argue that middlebrow culture is inherently liberal or corrupting.

It’s as if the right side of the conservative brain has atrophied to such a degree that the people who claim to speak for us can’t see beyond the next election cycle or next Sunday’s news shows.

The very people who claim the legacy of Ronald Reagan denigrate the medium that made his career, and made him the extraordinary leader that he was. Reagan understood the power of the narrative; and he further understood that the story of the average man doing extraordinary deeds defined both conservatism and American exceptionalism.

That, more than any policy choices, is the legacy Reagan left to conservatives. And I firmly believe that the next Reagan will be found not among politicians and lawyers and investment bankers but among writers and directors and actors.

****

Join the discussion on Twitter. And submit your answer to David’s question for publication at PJ Lifestyle: DaveSwindlePJM [AT] Gmail.com

The essay above is the fourth in volume 2 of the cultural discussions between the writers of PJ Lifestyle and Liberty Island exploring the history of counter-cultures, the future of conservatism and the role of new, emerging counter-cultures in restoring American exceptionalism.

Volume II

See the first volume of articles from 2014 and January and February 2015 below:

2014 – Starting the Discussion

January 2015 – Volume I

February 2015

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5 Ways Hebrew Is (Very) Different from English

Sunday, January 25th, 2015 - by P. David Hornik

When I started learning Hebrew at age 29, one year before moving to Israel, it seemed daunting. Until then, English was the only language I knew; now, at a relatively late age, I was setting out to learn another one that had a different alphabet, belonged to a different language family, and was overall distant and exotic from the standpoint of English.

Some of the ways in which Hebrew differs from English were indeed hard to get used to, others not so much. What was fascinating was to find how there are different modes of human speech. While the content of what gets expressed is basically the same, the mechanisms for doing so are not. It would be all the more intriguing to learn a third language; I wish I had the time.

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What if Red Dawn Happened, But It Was Islamic Terrorists Instead of Communists?

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015 - by Frank J. Fleming

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Now, I’ll just get this out of the way: I know some of you are going to say, “Hey, Liberty Island is also publishing your first novel, Superego, so you might just be saying this to help yourself.” Well, I don’t have time for your insane conspiracy theories. Why don’t you go back to disproving the moon landing. Besides, you know you can trust me. Remember that time in 2008 when I said I thought Barack Obama might not be that great of a president? I was mainly right about that. I never lead you wrong.

Anyway, The Big Bang is about an alternate history where Islamic extremists actually take over the U.S. after 9/11. As you might imagine, we end up with a lot more problems than which cartoons we’re allowed to publish. Now, you might wonder how in the world those idiots could accomplish taking over our country, but the title of the book gives you a bit of a clue to that. Not to reveal too much, but a lot goes wrong, worldwide, all at once.

The story jumps between a number of characters at different points in time — before, during, and after the titular tragedy. I was absolutely riveted trying to find out more about what had happened and thinking about how we really would react in such a situation (it made me very thankful that our country is awash in guns).

A number of the main characters are real people. I was a little unsure how that would play out, but Griffis fleshed them out very well and didn’t turn them into caricatures. All the details in the book are really well done, and Griffis makes the devastation and invasion frighteningly real.

I’ll definitely read the next book, as it’s pretty obvious from the ending that this is the first part of a series (it’s also obvious because the subtitle of the book is “Lonesome George Chronicles Book 1″ — sort of like how you knew there’d be another war when they named the first one World War I). The Big Bang is a thrilling story, and I highly recommend it. With such a great start, I’m really excited to see what other books Liberty Island publishes… whether or not they were written by me.

******

Editor’s Note: This post is part of an ongoing dialogue between the writers of PJ Lifestyle and Liberty Island regarding the future of conservatism and the role of emerging counter-cultures in restoring American exceptionalism. See the previous installments in the series and join the discussion:

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The Metaphorical War

Friday, January 16th, 2015 - by Stephen McDonald

Why the disconnect between conservative electoral wins these last thirty-five years, and how leftward American culture and law has slithered? How did it come to this?

Thought being the father of action, ineffective efforts spring from flawed worldviews.  Our ballot box wins having proven at best delaying actions against the Left’s Borg-like assimilation of the United States, it is time for conservatives to take a hard look at how conservatism views itself and the Left.

Ultimately, much of the problem results from certain conceptual metaphors inherent in modern conservatism. Change those metaphors, and different, more effective actions will result.

The Importance of Conceptual Metaphor

A conceptual metaphor means understanding one idea in terms of another—for instance, argument is war or life is a journey. What metaphor we use affects how we act on or towards the idea.

As George Lakoff and Mark Johnson discuss in their groundbreaking work on the subject, Metaphors We Live By, we see markers of conceptual metaphors scattered throughout our language.  Because our culture views argument as war, we seek to win debates, attack our opponent’s position, claim their position is indefensible, and probe for weak points in the other side’s argument. With such a metaphor, it is not surprising that arguments are often very charged in our culture.

To demonstrate how profoundly different conceptual metaphors can affect views and actions towards the same subject, Lakoff and Johnson mused on how a society that likened argument not to war but to a dance might approach debate:

[T]he participants are seen as performers, and the goal is to perform in a balanced and aesthetically pleasing way. In such a culture, people would view arguments differently, experience them differently, carry them out differently, and talk about them differently [than in a culture where argument is war]. But we would probably not view them as arguing at all: they would simply be doing something different. It would seem strange even to call what they were doing “arguing.”

A more individual example of how conceptual metaphors can affect thought and so action is to imagine two men. One thinks of life as a gift. The other thinks of life as struggle. Who’s more likely to have a happier life?

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This Graphic Novel Has Tremendous Potential In the Culture War

Sunday, January 11th, 2015 - by Andrew Klavan

I don’t know Anthony Gonzales-Clark, but he brought this Kickstarter crowd-funding project to my attention, and it genuinely looks cool and worth supporting. Gonzales-Clark wants to create a graphic novel called “City On A Hill,” about the history and ideas behind the American founding.

To have such a graphic novel produced by a guy who reads Thomas Sowell (featured prominently in the appeal) would be no small strike in the culture war, so if you have a couple of bucks, try to help Gonzales-Clark reach his 11K plus goal.

*****

Cross-posted from Klavan on the Culture

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What Are Your New Year’s Resolutions for 2015?

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014 - by PJ Lifestyle Daily Question

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10 Fantastic Christmas Stories From Creative Writers

Thursday, December 25th, 2014 - by Liberty Island

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Editor’s Note: Since March, PJ Lifestyle has been highlighting some of the most innovative fiction writers at the recently-launched new media publishing platform Liberty Island, featuring interviews and story excerpts. Click here to see our collection of 33 so far. To learn more check out this interview Sarah Hoyt conducted with CEO Adam Bellow: “It also has a unique mission: to serve as the platform and gathering-place for the new right-of-center counterculture.” Also see COO David S. Bernstein’s recent essay here in which he defines Liberty Island as, “an imaginative playground where brilliant and creative people can test their ideas without being harassed or threatened by the new breed of ‘community activists’ who police thought and speech in the media.” Also see Bellow’s cover story at National Review: “Let Your Right Brain Run Free.” 

The Grand Prize Winner in the Holiday Writing Contest:

Who Won The Grand Prize in the Holiday Writing Contest? Read an excerpt of “The 1011000-100110110000011010011 Truce” by Thomas A. Mays here.

Four Honorable Mentions, also excerpted at PJ Lifestyle over the past week:

Get the Greek – A Chrismukkah Tale

Turkey Legs Boned & Rolled Like Veal, Just as Tender but Tastier

‘I Don’t Want to See a Trail of Bodies, Unless They’re the Bodies I’ve Blessed for Destruction.’

Have a Very Martian Christmas…

And here are links to the five runners up:

Lunar Christmas by Leigh Kimmel

ELFILTRATED – A Tale of Deception by Susan Ouellette

An “Out”-standing Chanukah by Marina Fontaine

Water Like A Stone by Elisabeth Wolfe

Festive by Adan Ramie

*****

image illustration via shutterstock / 

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Have a Very Martian Christmas…

Wednesday, December 24th, 2014 - by Liberty Island

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Editor’s Note: Since March, PJ Lifestyle has been highlighting some of the most innovative fiction writers at the recently-launched new media publishing platform Liberty Island, featuring interviews and story excerpts. Click here to see our collection of 33 so far. To learn more check out this interview Sarah Hoyt conducted with CEO Adam Bellow: “It also has a unique mission: to serve as the platform and gathering-place for the new right-of-center counterculture.” Also see COO David S. Bernstein’s recent essay here in which he defines Liberty Island as, “an imaginative playground where brilliant and creative people can test their ideas without being harassed or threatened by the new breed of ‘community activists’ who police thought and speech in the media.” Also see Bellow’s cover story at National Review: “Let Your Right Brain Run Free.” 

Check out the Grand Prize Winner in the Holiday contest,  “The 1011000-100110110000011010011 Truce” by Thomas A. Mays,  excerpted here. And also the first Honorable mention is here: “Get the Greek – A Chrismukkah Tale” and the second here: “Turkey Legs Boned & Rolled Like Veal, Just as Tender but Tastier,” and the third here: ‘I Don’t Want to See a Trail of Bodies, Unless They’re the Bodies I’ve Blessed for Destruction.’

Here’s an excerpt from “Better or Worse” by Mary Madigan, the fourth runner up in the Holiday Writing Contest:

“Live the Martian adventure” the ads said. “Mars has jobs.” Amy said. So Joe packed their bags and they left their hometown in Northern Great Lakestan, convinced that this new life would be better.

It wasn’t. There were jobs and the pay was good, but they were mostly desk jobs–the kind of work that you learn in an hour and wash/rinse/repeat for the rest of your life.

In every other way, Mars was the same as Wisconsin –eleven months of winter and one month of black flies. There were the same stores stocking the same junk–ice fishing supplies, hydroponic marijuana, buffalo algaesnaps and pasties (not the fun kind). There only way he could tell that he was not still in Wisconsin was when the snow melted. The mud that slimed the streets was red, not brown.

They even kept their Wisconsin routine. Weekends were spent repairing stuff in the house. Then they’d trudge outside for groceries and their weekly flu shot. Then they’d go back home, nuke dinner, turn on the TV and shiver under blankets until it was time to go to bed. Wash/rinse/repeat.

They were headed to the grocery store now, wobbling over ice, snow whirling around their feet like wisps of smoke. Christmas decorations added a little bit of color, but they’d already transported their presents months ago, to a family that was much too far away. There was no one to shop for but themselves.

As they passed the Port Tharsis Yacht club, Amy glanced longingly at the ships. They had met in pilot training. They both had high hopes of working on a transport and living on a space station, maybe Caprica. But low salaries, few job openings for pilots and ridiculous hours had changed those plans. They could live together and have desk jobs or they could follow their dreams and live apart. So they chose to be together. For better or worse.

Joe glanced into the Yacht Club window. Behind the fogged windows the guys inside were laughing. One guy turned and saw him, gave him a look that said. “I have a ship and I can leave this sad Martian rock anytime I please. And you, you pathetic little groundling–you can’t.”

Some ships were covered for the season, snow floating a few centimeters over their energy shields. Others were uncovered, still steaming after a quick descent through the atmosphere. One ship, pockmarked by rubble strikes but freshly cleaned, had a piece of paper laying on the ground beside it. Joe picked it up. “For Sale.”

The want, no, the need to own this ship, to be that guy in that Club hit him like a rogue wave. He had to convince Amy, right here and right now to buy this ship. As Yoda said. “Do… or do not. There is no try.”

Amy was already walking away, her boots crunching into the distance. He had to think fast, and of course the first thought in his head was more wisdom from Star Wars. This time, it was reverse psychology.

“What a piece of junk,” he said.

“Yeah.” she said. Her boots crunched towards him. “But imagine how nice it would be if we could just wormhole away on the weekends. To Fhloston pleasure planet …”

“Or Kepler-16b.” he said. “Two suns and a tiki bar on every corner.”

“Hmm…” she said, and his heart skipped a beat. Then he overplayed his hand. “It would make a great Christmas present. We haven’t spent my bonus check yet.”

“But…” she said “…we were going to use that for a new couch.”

Click here to read the rest at Liberty Island

*****

image illustration via shutterstock / 

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‘I Don’t Want to See a Trail of Bodies, Unless They’re the Bodies I’ve Blessed for Destruction.’

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014 - by Liberty Island

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Editor’s Note: Since March, PJ Lifestyle has been highlighting some of the most innovative fiction writers at the recently-launched new media publishing platform Liberty Island, featuring interviews and story excerpts. Click here to see our collection of 33 so far. To learn more check out this interview Sarah Hoyt conducted with CEO Adam Bellow: “It also has a unique mission: to serve as the platform and gathering-place for the new right-of-center counterculture.” Also see COO David S. Bernstein’s recent essay here in which he defines Liberty Island as, “an imaginative playground where brilliant and creative people can test their ideas without being harassed or threatened by the new breed of ‘community activists’ who police thought and speech in the media.” Also see Bellow’s cover story at National Review: “Let Your Right Brain Run Free.” 

Check out the Grand Prize Winner in the Holiday contest,  “The 1011000-100110110000011010011 Truce” by Thomas A. Mays,  excerpted here. And also the first Honorable mention is here: “Get the Greek – A Chrismukkah Tale” and the second here: “Turkey Legs Boned & Rolled Like Veal, Just as Tender but Tastier

Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of “Christmas Hits,” the third runner up in the Holiday contest:

Not waiting for the storm to let up, seventy-year old Caesar Vincenzo ran stiff legged, head down, from the car into the store. Soaked, he stood proudly inside his twelve-year-old business, Rex Appliances. With his fingers he combed back wet hair and noticed a young couple transfixed before three large plasma screens, two roaring with action movies and a third showing White Christmas, a holiday favorite that he planned on watching soon. He was smiling when the couple turned and withered at the sight of Caesar. Hair dyed black, barrel-chested with thick arms filling out his sport jacket, Caesar’s large chin gave his meaty face a menacing look, the look of a hit man, not a successful business owner, which only depressed him. He shook his head and lost the smile as the young couple scooted toward the appliances lining the back wall.

The five-thousand-square-foot store carried mostly televisions and audio gear and a few brands of washers and dryers, but it was the new plasma technology that Caesar loved. The clamor of hyenas taking out a wounded lion, the automatic-weapons fire of a shoot-’em-up, and the Haynes girls singing “Sisters” carried the formative sounds of the Big Bang.

The store provided economic cover for Caesar’s cash business. Averaging a half million a year, he mostly stashed it in off-shore accounts and safety deposit boxes. For trips to the Bahamas he used receipts from modest hotels and restaurants, making business vacations appear as reasonable expenses to the IRS, who had audited him twice in the nineties. In Nassau his actual time and cash money was spent on Paradise Island in thousand-dollar-a-night penthouses, hookers galore. Planning retirement someday on the southern tip of the Baja, he had built a beach house in Del Cabo under an entirely new identity.

The bobbing head of Jeff Montgomery caught his eye. His manager for five years, Jeff ran a tight ship: hired and fired, kept immaculate books, and had a record of strong sales. He should have been an employer’s dream except that he routinely challenged Caesar’s authority and his inadequate knowledge of the store’s products. However, this Christmas season, in the spirit of one-upmanship, Caesar had insisted they carry a few holiday items. Jeff reluctantly purchased a half dozen three-foot tall artificial trees that now crowded the floor in front of the checkout and an open box of four-inch tall white-tipped pines that covered most of the counter.

One night Caesar dreamt that Jeff appeared out of the sky, riding a cloud, looking down on him with his familiar smirk. Like a nightmare where the dreamer is stuck, unable to move, Caesar had to listen to an endless barrage of exotic knowledge from his employee with the occasional work-related, sarcastic dig aimed at the boss.

Occasionally, Caesar had fantasies of slitting Jeff’s throat and throwing him in the dumpster out back, but ignored the impulse. Years ago, Frank Laconti, his lifelong boss, had impressed upon Caesar that his skills and efficiency would tempt him to eliminate people that made him jealous, angry, or simply got under his skin. “Keep your cool,” Laconti had cautioned. “You’ve got a code of honor to follow. I don’t want to see a trail of bodies, unless they’re the bodies I’ve blessed for destruction.”

He had maintained that code for decades as he watched Little Tony, Caesar’s contact and mentor, walk into Rex’s carrying his briefcase, looking more like a seedy Sony rep with time to kill than the most ruthless of Laconti’s hit men. Little Tony had a big, formless nose, narrow face and playful eyes. Ten years Caesar’s junior, he enjoyed bragging about family business with a long-standing employee like Caesar Vincenzo, and took delight in teasing him, not only about his height, but Caesar’s pride in making clean kills.

“Still using taxis? Caesar said, watching the boxy red and yellow cab leave the parking lot.

“You bet. That way a couple of paisans like us can have a little taste, and I don’t have to worry about getting pulled over for something stupid like speeding and the cops finding a hundred grand on me and a necklace of thumbs–just kidding … about the money. Hey, taxis keep me foot-loose and fancy free … just some old guy being driven to the grocery store, a nobody.”

Little Tony pointed with his chin in the direction of Caesar’s office and two men walked in shutting the door.

Tony took Caesar’s chair and Caesar stood, unsmiling, hands clasped in front, a predator’s still moment before nailing something running through the brush. Tony stretched his long legs far under the desk and leaned back, making himself comfortable. Tilting his head right, glancing down, he grinned as if admiring a pair of severed heads fashioned into a footstool.

“Caesar, you’ve got another nice deal comin’ up. Right in your own backyard. ‘Tis the Season…. After Mass he drops off the wife and tells her he’s going to the cemetery to visit the parents; then runs off to the girlfriend’s. Seems like you got it all figured out.”

“I did my preliminary work a few weeks ago. Wherever he goes he leaves a trail of crumbs a mile wide. Same routines.” Caesar kept it simple with Little Tony. The slightest weakness, lack of knowledge about the mark, and Little Tony would laugh in his face, level another ‘short’ dig, or wipe his feet on Caesar’s code of honor.

Little Tony pointed to the envelope.

“Everything’s there, including your money for Sunday’s job. Boss really liked your last hit, very smooth; eliminated a real problem child. So, he told me to pay you in advance and said to relax for a while. He’s sentimental about Christmas and the start of the New Year is quiet anyway. Besides, he’d like you to keep the decks clear in case he decides to wack Ruth Cassano. Now that would be a Holiday Special.”

Caesar stared, expressionless, blindsided.

Tony said, “Hey, I’m just busting your balls. She’s not down for house-cleaning.”

Caesar didn’t flinch even though his insides tumbled.

“C’mon,” Tony said, opening his arms wide, a moment of truth. “I’m only teasing ya. Everyone knows you had the hots for that witch. The best thing you ever did was stay away from that voodoo snatch. Hey, no firsthand experience, but the boss says she’s on fire down there.” Hand raised, ready for his oath, Tony added, “That’s what I hear–just sayin’.” He made a lopsided shrug. “Frank still likes her. I guess she helped him out with some personal matters, read his fortune, even warned his son might die soon.” He chuckled deeply, a lower register used for moments of wisdom. “Me, I’d never let that witch get anywhere near my joint.”

Caesar hadn’t known about Laconti’s affair with Ruth and now his anger was aimed at his lifelong boss, a downpour of rage, a West Palm Beach storm that clobbers you late afternoon.

Caesar nodded his head and even smiled a few times as they moved on to other topics. He decided Sunday’s hit would be his last. And just as swiftly, a plan surfaced. If Ruth had been privy to Laconti’s business she might be led to believe she was a target. Caesar decided to go after her. It felt right, like the perfect hit. He would bring Ruth terrible knowledge, but also her chance to be saved by the one man who had always loved her.

A short knock and Jeff popped his head in. “I need to make a deposit. Can you watch the store for a few? That couple left. The place is quiet.”

“Sure, and pick up some sandwiches for us,” Caesar said.

Once Jeff was gone, Little Tony rose slowly from his seat and towered over Caesar, leaning close, a wide smile cutting his face in half. Caesar always thought he looked goofy when he smiled like that.

“I gotta tell ya,” Tony said, “it’s now official–heard it on the news.” He yelled like someone winning the lottery–”Ceez, you’re short!” He laughed in spurts, a jagged bark that infuriated Caesar. “The average height in the good old US of A is now five-ten, anything less–like five-eight–is Mr. Short. You remember that song about short people?”

“Are you gonna finally buy something today?”

“I want something big, at least fifty-five inches. And it’s gotta be Panasonic.”

“In the back,” Caesar said. “We got some in this morning. Go take a look. I need to keep an eye on things.” Caesar hustled to the front door, locked it, and flipped the sign from “Open” to “Sorry, We’re Closed.” Returning to the counter, he pulled a smooth piece of rope from a side drawer, stuck it in his pocket and walked stiff with rage toward the stockroom. Barehanded, Tony was ripping open the end of a large box.

“Hey, Shorty, help me out here,” were Tony’s last words as Caesar pulled the rope from his pocket with the flourish of a magician and brought it over Little Tony’s head, crossing his hands, yanking mightily. With a shout he stomped the back of Tony’s leg sending him to the floor, shoving his knee against his back and strangling him. With his face twisted toward Caesar’s, Tony’s eyes seemed to grasp something important and then dimmed.

Caesar wondered if Little Tony heard his words of victory and scorn before he broke his neck for good measure. Later that night Caesar would return, retrieve the body, and feed Tony to the Everglades’ finest.

He felt no remorse for the killing, but felt bad that he had ignored Frank Laconti’s most sage advice from years ago: “Caesar, you have a job to do, do it well, be professional, and clean up after yourself. Don’t make it personal–like, ‘This’ll be easy, I hate this guy’s mug,’ or, even worse, ‘I feel sorry for this guy, he’s just a working stiff with a family.’”

The boss’s warning not to kill for personal reasons kept Caesar from murdering everyone around Ruth, including her husband, and claiming her as his own. Strengthening that attitude was a documentary he had caught late one night, a reenactment of some mad Indian–maybe an Eskimo–blasting away a woman’s entire family and then walking into the house and claiming her. “That lucky Indian lives in a very small world. Not possible in mine.”

Read the rest at Liberty Island here.

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image via Liberty Island

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Turkey Legs Boned & Rolled Like Veal, Just as Tender but Tastier

Monday, December 22nd, 2014 - by Liberty Island

turkeylegs

Editor’s Note: Since March, PJ Lifestyle has been highlighting some of the most innovative fiction writers at the recently-launched new media publishing platform Liberty Island, featuring interviews and story excerpts. Click here to see our collection of 33 so far. To learn more check out this interview Sarah Hoyt conducted with CEO Adam Bellow: “It also has a unique mission: to serve as the platform and gathering-place for the new right-of-center counterculture.” Also see COO David S. Bernstein’s recent essay here in which he defines Liberty Island as, “an imaginative playground where brilliant and creative people can test their ideas without being harassed or threatened by the new breed of ‘community activists’ who police thought and speech in the media.” Also see Bellow’s cover story at National Review: “Let Your Right Brain Run Free.” 

Check out the Grand Prize Winner in the Holiday contest,  “The 1011000-100110110000011010011 Truce” by Thomas A. Mays,  excerpted here. And also the first Honorable mention: “Get the Greek – A Chrismukkah Tale

Here’s an excerpt from “Wild Turkey“:

“You won’t snooker me twice,” said Chili.

James Riggio gave his mouthful of Copper Bottom ale the attention it deserved before he swallowed and said, “I haven’t snookered you once.”

“Who owns the Hubbub Pub, you or me?” Before James could say word one, Chili bulled on. “And who has the recipe for Hubbub Chili, you or me?”

“Who owns the recipe,” James corrected. “You never even asked me for it until folks started calling you Chili. That’s when you decided you had hindsight squatter’s rights.”

He watched Chili in the mirror that lined the Pub’s long bar. Bone-thin, always moving–even now he polished an already gleaming bar as he complained. A rusty Fu Manchu mustache, hair to match, face almost as red. An added watch-your-step about him tonight. As though what he wanted from James had little to do with what he said.

“You even worked it the same,” Chili said. “Hauling in your damn wild turkey roasts last Christmas the same way you did that first vat of chili–two years ago?”

“About.” A few months after James had looked around Copper Falls, Montana, bagged his deer, tried out the ski hill, and decided to sink his savings into a big old house near Main Street he was restoring by inches, kitchen first. The house was zoned commercial, he could use it for Game Chef, his catering business. James delivered a vat of chili to the Pub Monday and Thursday year round. It paid almost half his mortgage.

“If your customers were satisfied,” he said, “what’s the problem?”

“This Wednesday is the damn problem. Christmas. Everybody knows why young’uns get the turkey legs, they got stronger teeth. Wild turkey is twice as tough. Your roasts–”

Turkey legs boned and rolled like veal, just as tender but–in James’ not so humble opinion–tastier: Chili made that sound like an insult.

James kept his mouth shut, except for sipping ale.

“You won’t snooker me twice,” Chili said again. “I want the recipe up-front, and it belongs to the Hubbub Pub.”

No way in hell would James share a recipe with Chili.

He said mildly, “We thrashed this out before hunting season, Chili. I said I’d show Seth what to do, but he couldn’t write it down. Why the trip down Memory Lane?”

Chili refilled James’ mug and pulled one for himself. A warning all by itself: Chili never drank in his own bar, even after closing.

This time he drained his mug–in swallows, not that fast–avoiding James’ eyes.

James studied him openly now, sipping his ale, running through possibilities. Only one fit.

“Merry hell,” said James. “Seth’s gone.”

Chili pulled himself another mug. “Bull’s-eye.”

“I thought the kitchen ran ragged tonight. You’re telling me Seth walked out on you the Sunday before Christmas? Who hired him away?”

Now that James had reached his real grievance, Chili seemed to go back to normal, turning his mug just to busy his hands.

“Near as I can make out, nobody,” he said. “Seth left here Friday night and hasn’t been seen since.”

As often as James saw Seth in the Hub’s kitchen, it should have been easy to picture him. It wasn’t. Flyaway dun-colored hair tamed by a bandana, gray eyes, stubble, a good half a head shorter than James. Quiet. A watcher. James couldn’t call anything else to mind.

“He didn’t strike me as the kind to walk away,” James said. “I’d never have trusted him with the turkey recipe.”

“Me, neither. Although I guess you wouldn’t know unless a guy, you know, walked away.”

“He live with his parents?” He could be young enough.

“Has a trailer up by the tracks.”

Once Copper Falls had been a railroad stop. Shabby trailers now filled the yards on either side of the abandoned tracks. Squatters.

“You checked?” James asked.

“Since I didn’t take it serious till the middle of lunch today–” Chili sighed. “I drove up about four. His truck wasn’t there. Nobody in his trailer.”

“Seth’s a grown man. The police wouldn’t be interested after only–what, a day and a half?”

“Why I didn’t bother them.”

“They’d just say he’ll turn up. They’re probably right.” James straightened to leave. “There’s always next year.”

Chili’s stare was unpleasant. “You don’t read the paper, James?”

In winter? Between hunting and cooking and skiing, even sleep was an afterthought.

Chili reached under the bar for a section of the Mirror, stared down at it, folded it. Presented it to James. A quarter-page ad. The top line read like always, The Hubbub at the Pub. This time the copy continued: Why cook on Christmas? Game Chef’s famous wild turkey roasts for Christmas dinner. Chef James Riggio guarantees the first hundred servings, after that you’ll have to fight for one.

“So if Seth don’t come back, you’re stuck, boyo,” Chili said with relish. “Same as me.”

“For Christ’s sake, Chili, I have my own customers. Seth is not my problem.”

Chili stabbed the paper with a forefinger. “Maybe you didn’t see where it saysJames Riggio?”

“You never even asked me.”

“This here is Saturday’s paper. It’s in this morning, too. I’m running it right up through Wednesday.”

Or lay there on the air. Redheads liked ultimatums and they didn’t like backing down. Unstable combination. James didn’t need a confrontation with his best customer.

“Worst comes to worst,” he said like surrender, “I might have a few roasts left over from my customers.”

“Worst comes to worst,” Chili said right back, “you cook them roasts in my kitchen, same as Seth would have.”

When James stared without answering, Chili added, “Lots of chili recipes out there, James.”

Not an or, then, an or else: cancel your business and tend to mine, or you’ll have a lot less business to tend.

James thought of his slowly lengthening list of regulars. Christmas would be his biggest day ever. By far. If he cancelled on them without warning, how many would come back? He thought of the Hubbub Pub, packed to the walls seven nights a week with noise to match. Most nights some of that noise was about James’ chili. Steady free good publicity for Game Chef. If the Pub had no wild turkey to serve Christmas Day, Chili would badmouth James every chance he got.

He thought of the Pub’s Seth-less kitchen.

“I’ll take door number three, Chili.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I’ll find Seth.”

Read the rest at Liberty Island here.

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image illustration via Shutterstock / 

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The Villains You Choose

Monday, December 22nd, 2014 - by Aaron C. Smith

Oscar Wilde once said that “you can always judge a man by the quality of his enemies.”

What holds true for men holds true for nations and cultures as well.

An America confident in its values and place in the world watched the villainy of Nazis and Soviets on the big screen and later television. After cultural revolution wracked America in the ’60s and ’70s, the new bad guys were Big Business and old white men in the alphabet soup of intelligence agencies.

By seeing how Hollywood wanted to wear (hey, trigger warning) a black hat, America, and the world, saw what the cultural revolutionaries wanted them to see. Since their enemy was traditional America, we knew the quality of the progressives to be low.

But Wilde only got it half right. It’s not just who you stand against. How you make that decision gives insight into quality. Sony’s decision to pull The Interview in light of cyber-warfare and terror threats highlights this truth.

The Wall Street Journal explains how in future films North Korea is going to get the kid-glove treatment in terms of being a big screen bad guy:

[t]he calculus involving North Korea appeared to be changing quickly following the Sony hack and its aftermath, and many studios were reconsidering even minor references to the Communist nation.

However, the reason for putting the Hermit State off limits has nothing to do with political correctness. It’s not sympathy for the regime’s Juche political philosophy, the way Sean Penn pals around with Latin American Marxists. In its own way, one might admire, or at least comprehend, political solidarity.

Nope. We’re witnessing abject fear.

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Get the Greek – A Chrismukkah Tale

Sunday, December 21st, 2014 - by Liberty Island

JIlBhLAa4n5d

Yesterday featured an excerpt from the grand prize winner here.

Today check out the first runner-up with a smart fantasy approach to the angelic world:

Judah Maccabee spat a curse, reached out to slam the laptop shut, and threw both hands in the air instead. Rivka kept telling him it was a waste of time watching World Jews Tonight. Why do you want to raise your blood pressure with all that bad news, she would ask. Earth’s a billion miles away on a whole other plane of existence, for cat’s sake.

“Because it matters,” he grumbled in response to her imaginary carping. “I didn’t die watching my own guts spill out on the hills of Elasa so Jews could put up Hanukkah bushes in December. They might as well burn offerings to Apollo.”

Rivka called out from the kitchen, “Did you say something, dear?”

Shaking his head as much to clear it as deny he’d spoken, he replied, “Ah, no, honey. Just watching the news.”

“Well, dinner’s almost ready. Florence and Chaim’ll be here in five minutes.”

He fumbled around the surface of the desk, frowning. Where did I–

“Your sunglasses’re in the top right drawer,” Rivka supplied helpfully.

*

As Judah helped himself to another square of kugel, Rivka said, “So, Chaim, I hear you’re in for a promotion. Moving into, what did your uncle call it? Qantas tunnels? So you’ll be stopping plane crashes?”

“Quantum tunneling,” Chaim said with a smile. “I’ll be an assistant project manager on Heisenberg’s team.”

“Excuse me. Quantum tunneling.” Rivka winked at Judah, who had dipped his kugel into the last remnants of brisket gravy on his plate. “Why assistant? Shouldn’t you be a full manager by now?”

Chaim turned to smile at Florence. “I could, but then I’d have to go up the Ladder. Take on a new form. Florence and I talked about it, and I’d rather stay here for another century.”

Beaming quite literally, Florence squeezed Chaim’s arm. She taught souls in the Guf everything they needed to know before conception, and the joy of her work manifested itself in a glow that rivaled the Sun.

“Ach. Such lovebirds,” Rivka said, somewhat wistfully.

It occurred to Judah that in his life and youth, he might have given Rivka a mouth-bruising kiss at this point, something promising a night of lovemaking that would make Solomon himself add a Parental Advisory sticker to his Song of Songs had it been described therein. He still could; after all, they were both in youthful, beautiful bodies of spirit made flesh, and the way she’d bent over to take the brisket out of the oven had reminded him why he’d married her 1093 years ago.

But he was still so damned mad.

What in Sheol is happening down there? Is it the fat guy with the beard? A realHanukkah celebration would have a ceremonial Greek getting his head caved in with a hammer–

“What’s wrong, Judah? You’re a million miles away,” Rivka said.

“Sorry,” he muttered, put a fake smile on his face, and asked Chaim, “How did you celebrate Hanukkah? In your life. It’s getting to be that time of year down there.”

Grimacing thoughtfully, Chaim replied, “Well, I didn’t spend a lot of time alive, but from what I remember, we lit the menorah, ate latkes, and got presents every day for eight days. Water pistols, action figures, that kind of thing.” Something in Judah’s expression must have concerned him, because he added, quickly, “We said the brucha, of course, Uncle Judah. If you want, I can bring over the DVDs. Most of them are still in the packaging.”

Judah shook his head. Chaim was a nice kid, but he’d been part of the problem.

*

Rivka waited until the credits rolled on The Will & Oscar Comedy Hour to say, “So. Are you going to tell me what’s wrong, or are we playing Twenty Questions?” She put the TV on mute.

Judah started to shrug, thought better of it, and said, “Just the time of year. You know.”

“Ach. Every year we do this,” she said. “Does Mattathias brood every Hanukkah? No.”

Scowling, he leaned toward her in his Barcalounger and said, “Mattathias doesn’t care about what happens to our people anymore. He’s up in Tiferet somewhere making cat souls.”

“Exactly!” she exclaimed. “He’s moved on. Like you should.”

“So you want to go up the Ladder? Move out and start, I don’t know, as thought-forms in some crystal matrix in an antimatter galaxy? Or making cat souls with my brother?”

“It’s better than this…this sulking!” she flared.

God, she was beautiful, with her dark, angry eyes and her brown hands fisted in her lap. Without another word, he rose, pulled her into his arms, and carried her to the bedroom.

But it wasn’t as good as he’d hoped. His mind was still elsewhere.

*****

Read the rest at Liberty Island

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Who Won The Grand Prize in the Holiday Writing Contest?

Saturday, December 20th, 2014 - by Liberty Island

robotwar

Liberty Island has announced one grand prize winner, four runners up, and five honorable mentions in this year’s Holiday Writing Contest. They’ll each be excerpted here at PJ Lifestyle through the week.

Start your holidays with a bang. Here’s an excerpt from the Grand Prize Winner, check out “The 1011000-100110110000011010011 Truce” by Thomas A. Mays:

“Merry freakin’ Christmas, boys. It don’t get no better than this.” Staff Sergeant Malcolm Riddell glared at the snowy, broken battlefield before him and took another long pull from the glass bottle in his hand. The amber liquid within burned harshly going down, but that pleasant pain was a welcome distraction from the monotony the Keystone War had devolved into.

“Pardon, SSGT,” a nearby Jarhead buzzed, “recommend you return to the bunker immediately. Your exposure may constitute an acceptable target upon which the enemy can expend resources.” The vaguely humanoid robot remained prone with its weapon, squelched into the battlefield’s half-frozen mud, but it had oriented its stereoscopic targeting head toward him. Riddell figured that meant it “cared,” at least a little.

“Well, hell, I wouldn’t want to upset anybody’s combat calculus, would I?” He turned around and staggered back to the open hatch leading to his own deep shelter. At the utmost limit of his hearing he could perceive the growing whistle of artillery, so he staggered a bit faster. By the time he had both of the surface airlock’s hatches dogged and started down the ladder, the screaming whumps of exploding laser-guided shells shook his access trunk and tore apart the Canadian border soil of the ground overhead. He briefly wondered if the poor Jarhead model on watch would survive intact.

At the bottom of the trunk, deeper than even hyper-velocity orbital bombardment bunker busters could reach, a much more humanoid Elite command bot awaited him, surrounded by a baker’s dozen of the short, many-limbed Grunt models, tidying up where they could. His own slovenly state seemed to be gaining ground despite their best efforts, however. The Elite passed its unblinking nest of red and black eyes over their efforts and then focused on Riddell. “You should not take such needless chances, SSGT. Where would the war effort be if you perished?”

Riddell smiled. “I imagine the ‘war effort’ would suddenly have a large surplus of bad bourbon to go along with its slight decrease in personnel. Don’t imagine for a second that I’m vital to this fight, ‘Leet. I am the very definition of expendable, not that I’ll be expended any time soon given the current stalemate.”

“Combat operations are not permitted in complete autonomy. If you were to be killed, we would be barred from any offensive actions until a new human overseer reported on station. This would unacceptably give the Canadian drone forces a distinct tactical and strategic advantage through a reevaluation of the risk/resource balance.”

“Oh no! You mean you finally might start shooting at one another? What a terrible thing to happen in your shooting war.” Riddell’s sarcasm was deep enough that even the bot could appreciate it.

The Elite’s hard drive whirred for a moment in its chest before the bot responded. “SSGT, you have made your feelings regarding combat calculus and autonomous drone warfare well known. We need not rehash old arguments.”

“Ha! Like I have anything better to do!” His laugh contained little humor. Riddell plopped into a threadbare chair in front of his dusty operations console. “‘Leet, the whole reason everyone started using autonomous combat drones and bots was to shorten conflicts, reduce errors, and save lives when war could not be avoided. The problem is, you machines are completely beholden to this combat calculus, refusing to make a move or expend resources unless you perceive a decisive tactical advantage. And the other side does the exact same thing, with the end result being we’ve all maneuvered ourselves into a worldwide standoff, everyone poised for combat on a dozen different fronts, but nobody actually shooting unless somebody makes a mistake or shifts the calculus. Thus, I am stuck here, watching over fighting robots that DON’T FIGHT, instead of going home and ENJOYING CHRISTMAS!”

The Elite’s hard drive whirred even longer this time. “Please explain the operational significance of Christmas.”

Riddell laughed again, but at least his braying contained some actual humor this time. “Christmas has no operational significance, which is what makes it so significant. Let that one burn up your logic circuits.” The humor did not last, however. Bitterness returned and Riddell leaned forward, elbows on knees, his face in his hands.

He continued. “War is a terrible thing: achieving sociopolitical goals through the complicated process of killing the people who disagree with you until they concede your side of the argument. But there were moments of grace–distinctly human moments–that made it less awful. Christmas was one of those.” He looked up from his hands. “Did you know that back in World War One both sides actually stopped fighting for Christmas? They came out of their trenches and foxholes and celebrated the holiday together, exchanging gifts and uniforms, playing soccer. It was called the Christmas Truce. Look it up.”

Read the Rest at Liberty Island

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image illustration via Liberty Island

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Who Are the Top 20 Conservative Columnists of 2014?

Thursday, December 18th, 2014 - by Dave Swindle

Top20

Here was the list from last year:

10. Ross Douthat

9. Frank Gaffney

8. Daniel Pipes

7. Rich Lowry

6. Jonah Goldberg

5. Mark Steyn

4. Dennis Prager

3. Ben Shapiro

2. Thomas Sowell

1. Ann Coulter

And here’s where I explained why Charles Krauthammer wasn’t on it (and why he won’t be on this year’s either, so don’t even bother asking): “3 Basic Differences Between Conservatism and Neoconservatism.” Also remember: I’m strict about this list being A) a list of regular columnists who write articles — not bloggers, tweeters, journalists, radio hosts, or TV pundits. B) not including anyone that I currently edit here at PJM, and C) a way to define the values, principles, and stylistic techniques of Conservatism 3.0.

I still need to finish my review of all their columns, but I’m not aware yet of anything that any of the previous year’s 10 columnists would have done or written to warrant an exclusion from this year’s list. Are you? There might be a little shuffling of the rankings, though, and it’s entirely possible that someone could jump into the top 10 or even top 5…

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image illustration via shutterstock / 

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My Growing List of 65 Read-ALL-Their-Books Authors

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014 - by Dave Swindle

Editor’s Note: We’re launching some discussions this winter in dialogue with the new fiction publishing company Liberty Island. See the previous installments: David S. Bernstein on November 19: “5 Leaders of the New Conservative Counter-Culture,”  Dave Swindle on November 25: “7 Reasons Why Thanksgiving Will Be My Last Day on Facebook,” and this collection of discussion starters from yesterday: “60 Questions to Provoke Debates About How to Fix Our Popular Culture.” To learn more about Liberty Island and their extraordinary writers see the collection “How To Join This Unique Team of 33 Creative Writers.”

Dear Jeremy Swindle,

I’d like to thank you for inspiring me with your PJ Lifestyle articles this fall. They confirmed for me something I already knew and now take extreme pleasure in bragging to others about: my younger brother has more natural writing ability than I.

You have a lot of potential, Jere, and lots of choices about where you’re going to choose to focus your creative energy and how you’ll refine your craft. In figuring that out I’m going to try to caution you against some of the mistakes that I’ve made over the last 15 years in my wanderings across culture, religion, and political ideology.

Your writing and your destiny is your own and it’s not my agenda to try to convert you to my positions. Rather, I want to try and give you a map of the territory that I’ve explored so far. Some of the books and authors I’ve gone through may be helpful to you as you continue do develop your own style and priorities.

I believe it’s important to study broadly across many subjects. Over the coming weeks and months my goal is to finish the giant-size recommended reading guide that I’m making the first part of my book. I’m planning on 365 books total, organized into 7 lists of 52 each. And as I’m writing each part in epistolary format with a specific reader in mind, for this opening section I’ve decided to write it to you, Jere. I’m trying to assemble an alternative college reading list, a Good Will Hunting, DIY, just-pay-the-late-charges-at-the-library, book-reading education. This is still the most entertaining scene of the movie, isn’t it?

At the core of the list there are several writers I’d direct more attention to than others. These authors are worth trying to take in in full. They range from famous, even legendary, long dead figures to writers only a few years older than you who I’ve worked with for years. All continually inspire me — just don’t assume that I necessarily agree with everything they write or that I’ve read all of their works yet. Here’s the list, I’ve written about most of these authors already and will be presenting the case for each of them. Some, like Aleister Crowley and Ann Coulter, are very misunderstood by many — don’t make the mistake of dismissing a writer just because some of their soundbites might throw you: 

  1. Howard Bloom
  2. Robert Spencer
  3. Michael Ledeen
  4. Daniel Pipes
  5. Kathy Shaidle
  6. Barry Rubin
  7. David P. Goldman
  8. Andrew C. McCarthy
  9. Leszek Kolakowski
  10. Paul Johnson
  11. Thomas Sowell
  12. Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa
  13. Stanley Kurtz
  14. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  15. Ben Shapiro
  16. Dennis Prager
  17. Joseph Telushkin
  18. David Mamet
  19. Robert Anton Wilson
  20. Camille Paglia
  21. Weston La Barre
  22. J. Christian Adams
  23. Shelby Steele
  24. Ann Coulter
  25. Adam Carolla
  26. Michael Walsh
  27. William F. Buckley, Jr.
  28. Andrew Klavan
  29. James Madison
  30. Roger Kimball
  31. Theodore Dalrymple
  32. Allan Bloom
  33. Roger L. Simon
  34. Douglas Rushkoff
  35. George Gilder
  36. Hannah Sternberg
  37. Frank J. Fleming
  38. John Waters
  39. Glenn Reynolds
  40. Helen Smith
  41. Ray Kurzweil
  42. James Wasserman
  43. John Whiteside Parsons
  44. Maimonides
  45. Niccolò Machiavelli
  46. Benjamin Franklin
  47. Aleister Crowley
  48. Booker T. Washington
  49. Israel Regardie
  50. Thomas Jefferson
  51. John Adams
  52. Ron Radosh
  53. Victor Davis Hanson
  54. Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik
  55. Franz Rosenzweig
  56. J.R.R. Tolkien
  57. Michael Barrier
  58. Frederick Douglass
  59. Alejandro Jodorowsky
  60. Lisa De Pasquale
  61. Shmuley Boteach
  62. Abraham Lincoln
  63. Gary Lachman
  64. Sarah Hoyt
  65. Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Jere, I hope to include you on a future version of this list…

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60 Questions to Provoke Debates About How to Fix Our Popular Culture

Monday, December 1st, 2014 - by PJ Lifestyle Pop Culture Debates!

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Editor’s Note: We’re launching some new discussions and debates this winter in dialogue with the new fiction publishing company Liberty Island. See the previous installments: David S. Bernstein on November 19: “5 Leaders of the New Conservative Counter-Culture,” and Dave Swindle on November 25, “7 Reasons Why Thanksgiving Will Be My Last Day on Facebook.” Some of the questions from the PJ Lifestyle Pop Culture debates feature from over the summer might make for good starting point as we start to consider the novels coming this month, SuperEgo by Frank J. Fleming and  The Big Bang (Lonesome George Chronicles Book 1) by Roy M Griffis. To learn more about Liberty Island and to see some of the writers contributing see the most recent collection of interviews and story excerpts: “How To Join This Unique Team of 33 Creative Writers. ” Submissions are due in a week for their current Writing Contest seeking messed-up Holiday short stories. Details here

Which Fantasy and Science Fiction Trends Should We Embrace?

  1. What If Obi-Wan Wanted to Tell Luke The Truth About His Father But Yoda Overruled Him?
  2. Who Are the Most Terrifying Figures in Fantasy Fiction and Films?
  3. Which Fantasy Stories Most Inspire You to Want to Fight For Freedom?
  4. Star Trek, Star Wars, Both, or Neither?
  5. Who Are the Scariest Science Fiction and Fantasy Villains of All Time?
  6. DC Vs. Marvel: Which Company Created a More Compelling Fictional Universe?
  7. What Are The Best Time Travel Stories?
  8. Is Game of Thrones Good Or Bad For Fantasy?
  9. Star Trek (of any Flavor), or Babylon Five? That *Is* the Question.’ Regards, Allston
  10. Who Are the Best Characters in the Star Trek Universe?
  11. How Would You Rank the Star Trek Movies?

What Are the Best and Worst in Film?

  1. Who Is Today’s Most Overrated Filmmaker?
  2. What Is Oliver Stone’s Worst Movie?
  3. What Is the Coen Brothers’ Best Movie?
  4. Is Wolf of Wall Street One of Martin Scorsese’s Worst Films?
  5. Who Is the Gen-X Woody Allen? Linklater Vs. Smith Vs. Baumbach
  6. What Are Stanley Kubrick’s Greatest Films?

What Makes For Innovative TV?

  1. What Is the Most Shocking Crime Drama on TV Today?
  2. What TV Shows Were the Most Ahead of Their Time?
  3. What Are the Top 5 Episodes of The Prisoner?
  4. Is The Prisoner TV’s Greatest Cult Classic?
  5. Is The Prisoner Actually a Continuation of Secret Agent?
  6. Who Are Your Favorite Fictional Moms?

Geeks In Love: 8 Questions To Spark Passionate Debates About Video Games and Chick Flicks

  1. What Are the Top 10 Classic Nintendo Games?
  2. What Are the Most Overrated Video Game Franchises?
  3. Which Generation of Nintendo Game Consoles Gave You the Most Joy?
  4. Do Some Violent Video Games Actually Inspire Real World Killing?
  5. Which Video Games Should Be Respected As Art?
  6. What Are the Best Romantic Comedies Of All Time?
  7. What Is the Difference Between a ‘Chick Flick’ and A Romantic Comedy?
  8. Who Are Your Favorite Fictional Married Couples?

Adaptation Success

  1. What Creative Magic Makes Some Adaptations Succeed and Others Fail?
  2. Which Video Games Should Be Adapted Into Films or TV Shows?
  3. Is It Better To Adapt Books as Netflix Shows and TV Mini-Series Instead of Films?
  4. What Are the 10 Most Disastrous Comic Book Adaptations?
  5. Lord of the Rings Vs. Harry Potter: Which Film Series Better Captured their Books’ Spirit?
  6. Which Science Fiction Novels Should Be Made into Films and TV Miniseries?

Questions So We Can Figure Out the Cream of the Crop In Popular Music Genres

  1. Are Black Sabbath and the Rolling Stones Better Than the Beatles?
  2. Who Are the Greatest Country Music Artists Everyone Should Have In Their Collection?
  3. Who Are the Greatest Female Vocalists Of All Time?
  4. What Are the 5 Essential Rap and Hip-Hop Albums?
  5. What Are the Most Badass Punk Rock Songs?
  6. How Did Your Music Tastes Change As You Grew Older?
  7. What Are the Most Overrated Beatles Songs?
  8. Which Classical Music Recordings Do You Listen to The Most?
  9. What Is the Most Under-appreciated Beatles Song?
  10. Who Are the Most Disturbing Figures in Music History?

Bonus: Music Questions from This Fall’s season of “Allston’s Afternoon Rockout” featuring tracks from the music lists of PJ Lifestyle’s classic rock guru.

  1. What Are the Most Essential Clash Tracks?
  2. Who Are the Coolest Women of Rock?
  3. Is ‘Free Bird’ The All-Time Greatest Guitar Song?
  4. How Would You Rank David Bowie’s Best Songs?
  5. Which Tracks Define the ‘Proto-Punk’ Sound?
  6. Can You Name a Bad Led Zeppelin Track?
  7. What Are the Best Songs For Driving Fast Across America?
  8. Who Are Your Favorite Rock Drummers?

What issues and controversies in popular culture do you want to see analyzed, debated, and explored in the coming months at PJ Lifestyle? What problems do you see as most serious and what kind of media should be made to counteract them?

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4 Ways That the Hebrew Language Redeemed the Jewish People in Our Time

Sunday, November 30th, 2014 - by P. David Hornik

The main factor that redeemed the Jewish people in our time is the state of Israel. It made them an active, generative people again, not merely scattered minorities contending with the Scylla and Charybdis of antisemitism and assimilation.

But a close handmaiden of the Jewish state in effecting this transformation was the Hebrew language. Along with the magnetic pull of the Land of Israel itself, it was Hebrew that enabled the Zionist endeavor to coalesce and take on a distinctive, organic character.

Hebrew—that is, the revival of the Hebrew language in the context of the return to Zion—achieved that in four main ways.

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