Tuesday, August 31, 2004

The Mysterious Right-Turn of Ron Silver

“Of all the names on this convention’s list of speakers,” writes Slate’s William Saletan from the Republican National Convention, “none shocks me more than Ron Silver.”

I know the feeling. When I saw actor Silver, longtime liberal activist and outspoken supporter and apologist for Bill Clinton, speaking at the convention last night, I expected the late Rod Serling to emerge finally from behind a curtain.

“Under the unwavering leadership of President Bush,” Silver said, “the cause of freedom and democracy is being advanced by the courageous men and women serving in our Armed Services. The President is doing exactly the right thing. This is why we need this President at this time! I am grateful for the chance to speak tonight to express my support for our Commander-in-Chief, for our brave troops, and for the vital cause which they have undertaken.”

Surprising right-wing rhetoric from a Hollywood leftie, I thought. So this morning, I did a Google search for media coverage of Silver’s speech. There was very little. In fact, with the exception of a few convention bloggers like Saletan, it was almost nonexistent. Then, with some persistent digging, I discovered that as far back as 18 months ago, Silver had publicly denounced the head of the European parliament for his “anti-Americanism” and had even made an appearance on FOX News’ “Beltway Boys” program to support Bush and the War on Terror.

It’s become old hat to accuse Big Media of bias. But it does occur to me that whenever a Republican sides with Democrats, or even when Ron Reagan, son of the late president, spoke at the Democratic National Convention last month, the press coverage is particularly thorough. So where has the press been during this apparent Right-turn by Ron Silver, once one of Hollywood’s leading liberal activists? Where were they 18 months ago? Where were they last night? Is a Left-to-Right defector less newsworthy than a Right-to-Left turncoat?


A postscript to the above:

I've just found that the Los Angeles Times, which my old comrade J. Neil Schulman used to (and may still) call Pravda West, ran a small story by Elaine Dutka in this morning’s edition headlined “Actor Silver Applauds President’s War Stance.”

It's nestled at the bottom of page 23 in the paper’s front section.

Meanwhile, at the Cow Palace...

While doing the cable shuffle last night, monitoring coverage of the 2004 Republican National Convention, I fell across C-SPAN. Bless their hearts, they were running Barry Goldwater's acceptance speech from the 1964 convention at the Cow Palace in San Francisco...complete, uncut!

"Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice... Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue..."

Don't expect to hear anything as stirring as that at this week's convention...or at any other time during this crummy campaign.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

FOUND: Weapons of Mass. Destruction!

Boston cops are now sitting on a $1.4 million stockpile of projectile launchers, stun grenades, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and tear gas they may never use, thanks to 2004 Democratic National Convention planners who wanted to prep for a disaster that never was. But I guess it’s “better safe than sorry,” especially when federal taxpayers are footing the bill.

Tuesday’s Boston Herald reported that the cops’ new arsenal includes more than $160,000 worth of crowd-control goodies, like some really neat “Stinger” rubber-ball-and-tear-gas-spewing concussion grenades. PLUS they got $5,000 worth of military-style pants, bull horns, batteries, bolt cutters, thousands of gas-mask filters, high-tech radio systems, and a $300,000 custom surveillance camera system.

Boston's new Era of Terror motto may become "America's Safest Vacation Hot Spot!"

Sunday, August 22, 2004

The Travelin' Ear

Here's what's been on my Accord's CD-changer this past week:

Muswell Hillbillies (The Kinks) -- Anybody who thinks Springsteen invented working-class rock music is dead wrong. This Kinks album, first released in 1971, is the real deal.

Bitches Brew (Miles Davis) -- I thought this was discordant crap when I was in my teens. Now I'm 50 and can't get enough of it. I'm not sure what that means.

Working Without a Net (Vanessa T. Ament) -- First, a disclaimer: Vanessa and I are old friends...older than I want to think about. That said, lemme add this: Vanessa'a first CD is top-notch. Most of the songs are her own compositions, and they often display a biting sense of humor that I find especially appealing. If you enjoy rich jazz vocals, you'll like this collection.

Brian Wilson Presents Pet Sounds Live -- In January 2002, Brian Wilson performed the classic Beach Boys Pet Sounds album in its entirety during four shows at London's Royal Festival Hall. Exhilerating.

A Boot and a Shoe (Sam Phillips) -- Her most recent work, and the production is stripped down to the basics.

Waltz for Debby (Bill Evans Trio) -- Evans' "Waltz for Debby" is one of the five greatest jazz pieces I've ever heard. And there are six other terrific numbers on this historic set, recorded live at the Village Vanguard on June 25, 1961. Evans on piano, Scott LaFaro on bass, and Paul Martin on drums. A must for late-night driving.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Theme song for Election 2004

Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon,
Going to the candidates' debate,
Laugh about it, shout about it,
When you've got to choose,
Every way you look at it, you lose...

-- Paul Simon, "Mrs. Robinson" (1968)

When "anarchists" vote...

AP reported on Monday that a faction of participants at last weekend’s North American Anarchist Convergence at Ohio University announced their intention to cast votes against George W. Bush on November 2.

Howard Ehrlich, the editor of a magazine called Social Anarchism, said he intends to “engage the political system” this year.

Susan Heitker, a so-called “anarchist” from Athens, Ohio, was quoted as saying the U.S. government is neither legitimate nor democratic, but she still plans to vote. “To me, at least, it’s important to vote,” she said. “There was a time when I was not going to vote, but I really dislike Bush.”

But one attendee got it right. “Ultimately,” he told the AP, “those who are voting are either bad anarchists or not anarchists at all.”

These voting anarchists are what Murray Rothbard once called “anarcho-pragmatists.” They push a fraudulent agenda of electing politicians to abolish politics, appointing bureaucrats to abolish bureaucracy, and governing to abolish government — i.e., moderation in the pursuit of Power.

The best arguments for why neither anarchists nor libertarians should vote — directed specifically at the Libertarian Party — remains George H. Smith’s article “Party Dialogue.”

Friday, August 13, 2004

Alien vs. Predator

The tagline on Alien vs. Predator, which opens in theaters today, is “Whoever wins, we lose.” My friend Butler Shaffer, who teaches at the Southwestern University School of Law, makes a similar point about Election 2004 today on LewRockwell.com:

For this year’s election, the political establishment — impresarios of this three-ring circus — has provided the electorate with yet another meaningless “choice”: a Yale graduate, pro-war, pro-Patriot Act, pro-expansive state member of “Skull-and-Bones” George Bush, or a Yale graduate, pro-war, pro-Patriot Act, pro-expansive state member of “Skull-and-Bones” John Kerry.

It’s like getting to choose between emphysema and lung cancer!
Like Butler, I’d rather skip both. I think I’ll skip the movie this afternoon, too.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

The Anti-Electorate Manifesto

More than 12 years ago, I first published my “Anti-Electorate Manifesto” in a political newsletter I edited called out of step, this blog’s predecessor. Since then, it’s been reprinted dozens of times both online and offline. With just 84 days remaining ’til Election Day, I’ve decided to resurrect it once again.

We, the Anti-Electorate, do not believe there is a need for “strong leadership” in government.

We are not drawn to “intellectual” authorities and political “heroes.”

We are not impressed with titles, ranks, and pecking orders — politicians, celebrities, and gurus.

We do not struggle for control of organizations, social circles, and government.

We do not lobby the State for favors or permission to control those with whom we disagree.

Rather, we advocate freedom.

By its very nature, the State does not.

Exercise your right to say “No” to the warfare-welfare system.

Refuse to vote. Then tell your friends why.

Friday, August 06, 2004

At last...the Complete KILL BILL!

I don’t know whether to call it the greatest action epic since The Good, the Bad and the Ugly or just the greatest revenge movie of all time...but my hands are clammy in anticipation for next Tuesday’s DVD release of the second half of Tarantino’s Kill Bill saga. FINALLY we can watch the entire blockbuster as it was first intended, in one marathon sitting.

In the meantime, all fans of Beatrix Kiddo, aka Black Mamba, aka The Bride should dash to the “Annotated Kill Bill” website, found here. It’s an entertaining and amazingly thorough guide to all the “grindhouse” film references in Tarantino’s masterwork.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Breakfast with Hunter

In 1971, anybody who thought Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas would still be in print 33 years later probably would have been declared a fool or a lunatic. But it is. And in three decades, it’s one of two books I’ve read and re-read over and over again, maybe a dozen times. (The other is Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, but that’s another story.) Twelve books later, Vegas remains Thompson’s high-water mark. So it’s no surprise that much of Wayne Ewing’s 91-minute 2003 documentary, Breakfast with Hunter, deals in some way with that “savage journey to the Heart of the American Dream.”

This is no voiceover-narrative, talking-heads, A&E “Biography.” Breakfast with Hunter follows the great doctor of gonzo journalism here, there, and back again without the director’s meddling. We’re taken to the Viper Room in L.A., where Thompson, joined by actors Johnny Depp and John Cusack, presides over one of his infamous give-and-take sessions with an audience. Then we’re whisked inside the heavily fortified walls of Hunter’s Owl Farm near Aspen, Colorado, the shriek of peacocks punctuating all conversation. We’re invited to a birthday party for former presidential candidate George McGovern in Washington, D.C. We attend a 25th anniversary celebration of Fear and Loathing, hosted by Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner and attended by journalists P.J. O’Rourke and George Plimpton. The film assumes familiarity with Hunter’s work, which may be its only shortcoming, but for us fans, this is a fascinating, once-in-a-lifetime glimpse into Thompson’s life.

But as I said, the center of the movie is Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas — both the book and the movie that finally sprung from it in 1998, directed by Terry Gilliam and starring Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro. The development of that movie was troubled for many years by false starts and ongoing angst, and an absolutely astonishing, 12-minute segment of Ewing’s documentary shows one reason why. The scene is as compelling as those eye-averting Mondo Cane films from the early ’60s. It depicts a meeting at Owl Farm between Hunter and the original team assigned to the Fear and Loathing project — director/screenwriter Alex Cox (whose Repo Man is one of the seminal punk films of the ’80s) and scripter Tod Davies. What begins with warm greetings quickly erupts into terror when the pair from Hollywood pitches an idea to use cartoon animation, based on the book’s famous Ralph Steadman drawings, for key scenes in the film. Hunter turns angrily on the two like a cornered wolverine, snarling and snapping obscenities, eventually banishing them from his home. Davies is left in tears, and both she and Cox are fired. It’s a powerful cinema verite moment upon which Ewing’s documentary revolves. You won’t forget it. Ever.

Until now, Breakfast with Hunter had been screened only sporadically at film festivals. But Wayne Ewing has independently released a phenomenal DVD of the movie. Besides the film, the DVD provides audio commentary by both Hunter and director Ewing, plus 45 minutes of extras, including Thompson writing song lyrics with the late Warren Zevon, unused footage of Hunter editing his novel The Rum Diary, and discussions about journalism and drugs with Hunter and P.J. O’Rourke. Amusingly, the DVD even offers English subtitles that can be accessed for viewers having difficulty fully translating Hunter’s notorious, guttural mutter.

The DVD is required viewing for Hunter S. Thompson devotees. You can order it directly from the producers’ website.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004


One of my all-time favorite freedom writers, Claire Wolfe, has written a wonderful column about one of my all-time favorite sci-fi TV series, Firefly.

Created by Joss Whedon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame, Firefly was a rousing antidote to the old collectivist Star Trek universe, telling the adventures of a motley crew of spacebound individualists. But wonderful as it was, the show lasted only 10 weeks on Fox in 2002 before the network execs killed it. These were the same execs who brought us Joe Millionaire.

Thankfully, Firefly is an example of the cult TV series that will not die. The DVD collection of the entire 14-episode series is a big hit, and Whedon's assembled the whole cast for a movie, Serenity, set to debut in theaters April 22, 2005.


I’m sure Tina Sinatra intended to pay homage to her old man when she served as a producer on Jonathan Demme’s new remake of The Manchurian Candidate. After all, Frank’s edgy performance in the John Frankenheimer original made that 1962 movie a classic. But much as I like Denzel Washington, he’s no Frank Sinatra. And Demme’s no Frankenheimer, either. I saw the new film last night, and as fun as it is at times – and as exceptional as its cast is – the new Manchurian Candidate limps behind its predecessor.

The main reason is These Times of Ours.

Four decades ago, George Axelrod’s script for the original film, adapted from the Richard Condon novel, packed a fierce emotional wallop. Those were the days of Camelot and the New Frontier. But Candidate was paranoid. And it was prophetic. Within months of its release, JFK was murdered in Dallas. The war in Vietnam escalated. Then King was gone. Then Bobby Kennedy. Then came Watergate. Maybe The Manchurian Candidate was too prophetic. Shortly after the JFK assassination, the movie dropped out of sight and was withheld from public viewing for 25 years. People talked about it, but nobody saw it. It became, well, legend.

Today, though, we live smack dab in The Age of Paranoia. We’ve seen the Emperor without his clothes (literally, in Clinton’s case). When planes hurtle into the World Trade Center, we mechanically ask, “Did the President know ahead of time?” During Campaign 2004, we realize instinctively that already “the fix is in.” So when we watch the new Manchurian Candidate, which offers a scenario where multinational corporate greedheads surgically tamper with the brain chemistry of Gulf War vets, we shrug and say, “So what?” It’s old hat. We were more shocked to see Peter Parker tear off his Spider-Man mask while M.J. was looking.

By all means, go see the new, unimproved Manchurian Candidate. It won’t rattle you like the original did audiences way back when. But you’ll get a kick out of it. Meryl Streep is every bit as scary as Angela Lansbury was in the first one. And after you experience the movie’s Election Night climax, you’ll wonder why no real presidential campaign has yet made use of the Kinks’ terrific old song “Better Things.”

Monday, August 02, 2004

Quote for the Month

Gary North offered a pithy bit of wisdom in June when he accepted the 2004 Rothbard Medal from the Mises Institute. Take it to heart, frustrated freedom-lovers!

"You can't fight city hall, but you can pee on the steps and run."

It ought to be a bumpersticker.