Saturday, April 29, 2006

Book Review: BURN

Imagine someone buying an entire planet, christening it “Walden,” and planting on it a colony of the last “true humans,” all of whom reject advanced technology and pursue lives dedicated to Thoreau’s philosophy of simplicity and the primacy of nature. That’s the basis of James Patrick Kelly’s thoughtful science fiction novella Burn, nominated this year for a Hugo Award.

Kelly’s story centers on Prosper “Spur” Leung, a fruit farmer from the Walden community of Littleton. Spur turns firefighter when “pukpuks,” original pre-utopia settlers displaced by the experiment, begin setting forest fires to resist the Transcendent State’s accelerated forestation of all land unused by the new agrarian settlers. The pukpuks, you see, refuse to be forced from their homeland for the sake of some “well-meaning” test in social planning.

Burn asks a lot of interesting questions. But Kelly has wisely decided to answer few of them. Sometimes, just posing a question and prompting discussion is satisfying enough. This is an intricately woven story with plenty of intriguing characters. Burn accomplishes one hell of a lot in just 39,000 words. And if you’re a devotee of Thoreau or at all interested in notions of experimental utopian communities, you’ll enjoy Kelly’s book.

Who is John Galt? Why, he's Brad Pitt!

The Hollywood trade paper Variety reports that Mr. and Mrs. Smith themselves, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, may be starring soon as John Galt and Dagny Taggart in a feature film of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. It seems that Lionsgate Films now owns the worldwide distribution rights to the film version of the novel, and Howard and Karen Baldwin will produce with John Aglialoro. Both Jolie and Pitt are reported to be longtime fans of Rand's.

I'm a longtime fan of Atlas Shrugged. And surprisingly, this casting news doesn't make me shudder.

We shall see...

Thursday, April 27, 2006

So much reading, so little time...

In August, I’ll be in Anaheim for L.A.con IV, the 64th World Science Fiction Convention, which means I can vote in this year’s Hugo Awards. Which in turn means I have a lot of reading to do before the July 31 ballot deadline. So during the next few weeks, I’ll reflect on some of that reading as I plow through the nominees.

I’ll begin today with the “Best Short Story” category.

Most of this year’s nominees aren’t especially good. In fact, it’s a shame nothing was nominated from Escape Pod, the weekly sci-fi podcast magazine; I can think of at least a half-dozen Escape Pod originals that are better than three of these Hugo nominees. Ah well...

Mike Resnick has been nominated in the past for 27 Hugos and has won 5, including last year’s “Best Short Story.” But “Down Memory Lane” (Asimov’s, Apr/May 2005), a sweet story about dealing with Alzheimer’s, is ultimately forgettable. And its style is perhaps too derivative of Daniel Keyes' classic Flowers for Algernon.

First-time nominee Margo Lanagan’s “Singing My Sister Down” (Black Juice, Allen & Unwin; Eos) is a well-crafted vignette about community intolerance, but it left me with a sense of “been there, done that.” Ho hum. And the less said about Michael A Burstein’s “Seventy-Five Years” (Analog, Jan/Feb 2005), an extremely lightweight attempt at political and social commentary, the better.

David D. Levine has one previous Hugo nomination, and his “Tk’tk’tk” (Asimov’s, Mar 2005) is a clever and entertaining story about how a planet-hopping salesman finally succumbs to interstellar culture shock. I liked it very much. But among the 2006 Hugo short story choices, I think this year’s real standout is first-time nominee Dominic Green’s “The Clockwork Atom Bomb” (Interzone, May/June 2005). Green details a frustrating week in the life of a post-War UN weapons inspector, and he kept me captive right up to the story’s punchy end. “The Clockwork Atom Bomb” is a keeper and will get my top vote for “Best Short Story” this year, followed by “Tk’tk’tk.”

Listening in on the War on Drugs

The following, including hyperlinks, comes originally from Reason magazine’s blog site. It was passed along in full by Wendy McElroy this morning. (Warning: some of the audio may cause you to wince involuntarily.)

Radley Balko spins some of the golden sounds of the War On Drugs, Tennessee theater of operations. Listen in and read the transcript as a group of flatfoots in the Volunteer State beat, abuse, and threaten to kill an illiterate suspect unless he signs a paper they claim is a consent form to search his premises (they also claim at one point that they have a warrant, go figure).

Unfortunately for the five Campbell County deputies, suspect Eugene Siler’s wife Jenny recorded a substantial part of the encounter. The tape doesn’t include a portion where the cops allegedly dunked Siler’s head into a fish bowl and a toilet, nor the conclusion, in which they made good on a threat to arrest his wife. But you can hear several beatings, a detailed threat to electrocute the suspect (by the testicles, naturally, no plungers being immediately available), lots of Siler moaning, and countless orders to sign the fucking form. That was enough to prompt Sheriff Ron McClellan to fire all five perps, who have received multi-year prison sentences.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Blunt talk about AEON FLUX

For fans of Charlize Theron in black Lycra, there was no better movie released last year than Aeon Flux. And a few of you may recall that I liked the movie, both for the Lycra outfits and because it was a smart and thoughtful adaptation of a very unique animated TV series. Well, Aeon Flux is now available on DVD, and I still recommend it for those who like cool science fiction ideas. But what really makes the DVD worthwhile is a full-length audio commentary by the film’s two screenwriters, Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi. These guys are a fun pair, and they’re refreshingly blunt as they talk about why they’re not particularly happy with sections of the movie as released. If you’re at all interested in the crafts of screenwriting and filmmaking, get hold of the Aeon Flux DVD and listen to this frank and witty commentary.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Alida Valli, RIP

Italian actress Alida Valli died this past weekend at the age of 84. Libertarians and the Ayn Rand crowd may best remember Valli for her portrayal of Kira in Goffredo Alessandrini’s Noi vivi (1942), the extraordinary movie adaptation of Rand’s We the Living (inexplicably unavailable on DVD; I have an old laser disc (!) copy). Most of us, though, fell in love with Valli in Carol Reed’s classic 1949 film The Third Man, in which she hauntingly played Anna Schmidt. And many of us men, who will never fully understand women, will always be astonished that Anna could shrug off the love of Joseph Cotton’s Holly Martins, preferring to be victimized by her “lover” Harry Lime (Orson Welles). Ah well... Good night, Alida Valli. (Thanks, Anders Monsen, for bringing her obit to my attention.)

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Unwrapping a Wellesian mystery

Criterion’s The Complete Mr. Arkadin (aka Confidential Report) 3-disc DVD package was released last Tuesday. I’ve spent three of the last five evenings with it, and I’m still not done. Criterion, responsible for the restoration and “rescuing” of so many fine films, really outdid itself this time. This set is not only a wonderful homage to the late Orson Welles, who wrote, directed, and starred in Mr. Arkadin, it is practically a “film school in a box.”

As I posted last month, Mr. Arkadin may be the greatest of the many Orson Welles Puzzles. First of all, some half-dozen different edits of the 1955 thriller-noir exist (including two Spanish versions, which feature two different actresses from the English-language editions); Welles disowned all of them. Unfortunately, the director spoke very little about the movie, and there are no existing memos or notes that detail his original intent. As such, Mr. Arkadin has been the subject of heated debate while floating around art houses and college campuses in horrible disrepair for more than 40 years. Criterion has now fixed the “disrepair” problem. All three of the versions offered in this set — the 1955 European release (Confidential Report), the 1962 American release, and a 2006 “comprehensive version” stitched together by folks at the Munich Film Archives — are beautiful restorations. However, even Criterion can’t present a definitive Mr. Arkadin. We’ll never know for sure what Welles’ vision was for this movie (and that vision, it’s said, changed day to day for every one of his projects). But now, thanks to Criterion, we can sift through The Complete Mr. Arkadin and either pick a favorite version from those presented or mentally fashion our own “perfect edit” using the outtakes, rushes, and alternate scenes offered. I’m grateful for that.

The Complete Mr. Arkadin is top-notch. The set leaves no stone unturned. It includes a trade paperback of Welles’ novelization of the movie (and there are many unanswered questions about its authenticity), audio commentary, interviews with one of the film’s stars and several Welles buffs, three half-hour episodes of Welles’ 1951 BBC radio program The Lives of Harry Lime (which included components later used in Mr. Arkadin), and lots of other wonderful things. Fans of Orson Welles, cinematic oddities, and film noir should really not miss this.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Only the State can save us...right?

Novelist Greg Bear’s latest sci-fi thriller is Quantico, now available in the UK and exclusively in the U.S. through a few book clubs, including Science Fiction Book Club. Here’s how the novel is described in the SFBC literature:

“It’s the second decade of the 21st century, and terrorism has escalated almost beyond control. ... In North America, the FBI uses cutting-edge technology to thwart domestic terrorists. Sat-linked engine blockers stop drug-traffickers cold. Devices the size of Magic Markers test for bio-hazards on the spot. 3-D projectors reconstruct crime scenes from hours-old evidence, and sophisticated bomb suits protect against all but the most savage forces. Despite all this, the War on Terror is virtually lost. Now the FBI has been dispatched to deal with a new menace. Like the Anthrax threat of 2001, a plague targeted to ethnic groups — Jews or Muslims or both — has the potential to wipe out entire populations. But the FBI itself is under political assault.”

I’m unfamiliar with Greg Bear’s politics — “For me, politics is biology, biology politics,” he says — but Quantico sounds like another typical defense of Leviathan. Regardless, I love thrillers and my curiosity is roused. I’ve ordered a copy through SFBC and will file a report here eventually.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

How I came to love the Time Lord

First, a confession: I’ve always liked the idea of Doctor Who better than the execution of the old British series (which ran, what, more than 30 years?). And I could never stomach Tom Baker, everybody’s favorite Doctor (of 9 or 10 of 'em). But the BBC’s all-new Doctor Who series, the first season of which now runs Friday nights on SciFi Channel, is a joy. Christopher Eccleston’s interpretation of the Doctor is terrific, all grins when things are at their worst, and I’m sorry to hear he’s already dropped out of the show’s second season. Fellow-traveler Rose, played cute-as-a-button by Billie Piper (who will stick around for season two), is appropriately blonde, spunky, and devoted to the Doctor’s mission. And the special effects are top-notch.

Last Friday’s episode, sixth of the first thirteen, was titled “Dalek,” and it’s set the show’s high-water mark for the time being. Yep, you heard me right — Dalek. You remember them from the old shows, right? The Daleks were a killer mutoid race, each member living in its own giant vehicular salt-shaker. Well, this outstanding episode depicted the inevitable final confrontation between the last Dalek and the last Time Lord (Doctor Who). Wonderful.

There’re only seven episodes of Doctor Who left this year; I don’t imagine season two (now showing in England) will be available in the U.S. until next spring. So catch it quickly, if you haven’t already. (By the way, if you do miss it, this first season with Eccleston will be released on DVD in July.)

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Great Moments in MLL History #1

I think it’s imperative that Libertarian Leftists be fully grounded in the history of This Movement of Ours. So thanks, Wendy McElroy, for sharing a Great Moment in MLL History this past weekend. Here’s the story Wendy disclosed on her blog Saturday about the cover of this classic 1981 issue of New Libertarian:

“During a party thrown by New Libertarian publisher/editor Sam E. Konkin III (or SEK3 as he preferred to be known), he rounded up four of the female celebrants in order to solve a problem. What to put on the next cover of NL? Frankly, I think it was a set up because it took SEK3 about 5 seconds to come up with the cover title ‘Murray’s Angels’ — referring to Murray Rothbard (tho’ only Janice Allen in front and I were actual Rothbardians) — and by the time he had done so firearms had also materialized. We rushed out into the outside corridor in front of the AnarchoVillage, a Long Beach apartment building in which most of the local anarchists who formed SEK3’s circle lived. Vic Koman (then a resident) took the picture while SEK3 exhorted us to ‘think of the State!’ in order to get mean, determined expressions on our faces. When we turned around to go back to the party through a door behind and to the left of us, we saw the entire gathering out in the corridor, watching intently. Of course, almost all of them were male. Good party.”

Incidentally, Wendy’s the one on the far left, with dark brown hair.

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Monday, April 17, 2006


Was a second edition of my ebook Agorist Class Theory really necessary — especially since the first edition became available just two months ago? Well, yeah. First of all, Brad Spangler and I kind of rushed it online in February to kick-off the debut of, so a few inevitable typos in the first edition have been driving me nuts; those typos have been fixed. But more important, I’ve added Samuel Edward Konkin’s 1973 article “Cui Bono? Introduction to Libertarian Class Theory” as an appendix. This article was written several years before Sam would begin work on his unfinished Agorism Contra Marxism, the basis for Agorist Class Theory. As Brad has remarked, “Cui Bono?” serves as “an interesting historical window on how Konkin’s views [on class conflict] evolved.” So if you haven’t already downloaded Agorist Class Theory, you now have even more reason to do so. And if you have already downloaded the ebook, I urge you to grab this second edition. It’s just, and improved!

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Friday, April 14, 2006

April 15: a message from Uncle Sam

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Great Moments in Tax Resistance History #2

December 12, 1958: Reverend Maurice McCrackin is arrested in Cincinnati. Ohio, and eventually sentenced to six months in prison, for refusing to provide subpoenaed financial documents relating to his war tax resistance.

Here we go again...

Big Lapdog Media now reports that, according to U.S. bureaucrats “in the know,” Iran could produce a nuclear bomb in just 16 days. But Brad over at Wendy McElroy’s blog suggests we read the fine print:

"If Iran had 54,000 centrifuges, instead of the current 164, then they would be able to enrich enough uranium in 16 days to make one nuclear bomb. This assumes they’ve solved all the other engineering problems — which I admit, aren’t difficult for a uranium bomb — but no evidence has been offered that they’ve done this. Just 164 centrifuges.

"This reminds me of the panicky pre-war headlines about the U.K. being 45 minutes away from an Iraqi attack. You’re being propagandized, and the press is complicit."

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Attention, libertarian partyarchs!

Gene Callahan explains brilliantly why true lovers of freedom have no choice but to eschew politics and become...gulp...anarchists.

Great Moments in Tax Resistance History #1

On April 15, 1969, the late Karl Hess sent the following letter to the Tax Collector, accompanied by his filled-out 1040:

The Declaration of Independence of the United States of America establishes a bill of particulars in regard to intolerable infringements, abuses, and denials of political power which belongs to the people.

The Federal government of the United States of America today is guilty of exactly every sort of infringement, abuse, and denial stated as intolerable by the Declaration of Independence.

I cannot, in conscience, sanction that government by the payment of taxes.

Further, the Federal government of the United States of America has established as a principle, and ruthlessly by the power of its officials enforces as a practice, that it can demand the primary loyalty of the people, that it can exercise all political power on their behalf, that it can wage war without their approval, and that it can and should establish the standards of their behavior and the goals of their lives.

I could not in conscience sanction such a government by the payment of taxes.

Finally, the Declaration of Independence, in the clearest possible language, tells Americans that when a government becomes destructive of the ends of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that it is the right and the duty of the people to abolish such government, to “throw off such governments.”

It is in the spirit of that Declaration, and in comradeship with men everywhere who seek freedom and to throw off such governments, that I now refuse to pay the taxes demanded by the government in the attached form.

[Published in The Libertarian, May 1, 1969]

Saturday, April 08, 2006

KoPubCo: a great Left Libertarian resource

Victor Koman, who has more history with the Movement of the Libertarian Left than almost anyone else I know, sent me a nice congratulatory note this past week for my winning the first annual Chauntecleer Award. He says he's now working on a play based on his novel Solomon's Knife, which should be very interesting...and very controversial.

Most important, though, is that Vic's publishing house, KoPubCo, is back in full force. Having been responsible for practically the entire line of New Libertarian publications for a period of some 20 years, Vic offers almost every back issue of every MLL publication there ever was, some original issues and plenty of high-quality photocopies: Laissez Faire! (1970), NYU Libertarian Notes (1971), New Libertarian Notes (1971-75), New Libertarian Weekly (1976-77), New Libertarian (1978-90), Strategy of the New Libertarian Alliance (1981-83), New Libertarian Notes & Calendar (1985-87), New Libertarian: The Newsletter (1988-90), and the one and only issue of The Agorist Quarterly (1995). KoPubCo is a terrific resource for any MLLer interested in the history and ideas behind This Movement of Ours.

And here's the very best news of all. Vic is preparing a 25th Anniversary Edition of Samuel Edward Konkin III's seminal New Libertarian Manifesto, which will include commentary by Murray N. Rothbard and Robert LeFevre. This is tentatively scheduled for release at the end of this month. Keep an eye out for it.

Re-entering the Probability Broach

I stumbled on a copy of L. Neil Smith’s The Probability Broach while weeding through a dusty closet last weekend and thought I’d revisit it. I last read the novel in the early ’80s, shortly after it won the Prometheus Award, and I recall my excitement then about its sly “inside” references to the libertarian movement. I loved its alternate history. The story was pretty damn clever. And even after two decades of disappointment over every other Smith novel I’ve struggled to finish, Broach holds up pretty well. It’s still very entertaining, and the historical twists are spot-on wonderful. But in retrospect, The Probability Broach now stands more as a good “first of its kind” than it does a great novel. Characters are two-dimensional, even when they’re front-and-center to the story. Smith stretches for cornball humor that’s too often, well, just inappropriate to the plot. And there’s a bit too much fawning over guns, even for my taste (and most people consider me a gun nut). But a new standard for libertarian fiction was set by The Probability Broach when it first appeared 25 years ago. And for that reason, I’m fond of it and will probably give it still another look a few years from now.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Recommended weekend reading

Roderick T. Long’s extraordinary 2006 Rothbard Memorial Lecture (“Rothbard’s ‘Left and Right’: 40 Years Later”), which he delivered at last month’s Austrian Scholars Conference, is now available in text form. Here’s a taste:

“If you want to call the free market a left-wing idea, or a right-wing idea, or a neither-left-wing-nor-right-wing idea, or a left-wing-in-sense- 37-but-right-wing-in-sense-49 idea, whatever, go for it — so long as you make clear how you’re using it. I like calling the free market a left-wing idea — in fact, I like calling libertarianism the proletarian revolution — but terminology is not the fundamental issue. The crucial point is to track when one of these labels is being used in an authoritarian sense, or an anti-authoritarian sense, or a mixed sense, and not allow any particular preconceived stereotype of ‘left’ or ‘right’ to occlude one’s thinking as to where one’s natural allies are to be found.”

You can find the transcript of the entire lecture right here.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Hillary: throwing off too many pheromones

Sharon Stone, whose Basic Instinct 2 is getting annihilated at the box office, had this to say recently about a 2008 Hillary bid for the White House (from the March/April Hollywood Life; sorry, no link)...

“I think Hillary’s fantastic. But I think it’s too soon for Hillary to run. This may sound odd, but a woman should be past her sexuality when she runs. She still has sexual power, and I don’t think people will accept that. It’s too threatening.”

Gee, that's just what I was thinking!

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Book Review: THE WAVE

Walter Mosley’s “young adult” novel 47 is nominated this year for a Prometheus Award. So why didn’t I read it instead of The Wave? Well, the Science Fiction Book Club was offering The Wave for a price I couldn’t ignore (i.e., nothing) and not offering 47 at all, so...

I got what I paid for.

Mosley, best known for his Easy Rawlins mysteries, has a writing style that appeals to me. It’s lean but lyrical. It really sings. But even that can’t save The Wave. Mosley takes the “black oil” idea from X-Files and spins a lot of new age hokum about a benevolent, shared-mind, collectivist, extraterrestrial life form that just wants to be friends with humanity (before it takes over the planet like some 1950s body-snatcher). Now, I’m actually fond of a lot of new age hokum, but this new age hokum is so tired and hackneyed that plowing through the novel’s second half was a chore — and the book’s a short one, 200 big-print pages. I was so anxious for closure that I began rooting for The Wave’s fanatical Homeland Security death squads to destroy the godless socialist entity once and for all.

So now I’m wondering: if this latest sci-fi novel of Walter Mosley’s is claptrap, how good can 47 be? And should I bother reading it before the Prometheus Awards are announced in August?

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Monday, April 03, 2006

April Fools joke? Nope.

Thanks to Charles Featherstone for the tip. Check out the book's website here.

Movie Review: SLITHER

Slither, which opened in theaters this weekend, may end up being my guiltiest movie pleasure of the year. I grinned all the way through it. Imagine taking the Tremors movies and amping ’em waaaaay up both in sci-fi monster grossness and hilarity. That’s Slither. Everybody in the cast is fabulous. Nathan Fillion (Firefly’s Mal Reynolds) and Elizabeth Banks (Betty Brant from the Spider-Man movies) are terrific leads, but Gregg Henry (best remembered as the baddest bad guy from Payback) is over-the-top wonderful as the mayor of Wheelsy, the small town infected by the gooey alien plague. And who’da thunk James Gunn, screenwriter of the two Scooby-Doo movies, would be responsible for both the writing and directing of this crazy little destined-to-be- a-cult-favorite gem? See Slither, if you’ve got the stomach for it. This sucker’s already on my DVD “to buy” list.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

The agorist imperative

From Samuel Edward Konkin III:

The agorist imperative is to transform the White [market] into Black. Nothing could be clearer. To do so is to create a libertarian society. What else can a libertarian society mean to economic terms but removing market activity from the control of the State? Market activity not under control of the State is black market. “Market” activity under the control of the State is white market and we are against it.

To illustrate, slaves building pyramids are white market. Slaves who run away, deal on the side stones and tools they ripped off, and otherwise engage in non-slave activity are black market — and free to that extent. What should the libertarian view be toward white-market pyramid building? Or, if you think pyramids would not exist in a free society but aqueducts might, what should our view be toward aqueduct building on the white market vs. black market water smuggling? New Libertarians urge the slaves to screw the aqueduct and go for their private buckets until such time as aqueducts can be built under voluntary arrangements.

(Strategy of the New Libertarian Alliance, No. 1, May Day 1981)