Unfinished essays and spontaneous eruptions on radical politics and popular culture
Sunday, July 30, 2006
Pining for Elsewhere
According to Reuters, an analytical social psychologist at the University of Leicester in central England has issued a report on “the happiest places in the world,” based on data from 178 countries and 100 global studies from groups like the United Nations and the World Health Organization. The report says that Denmark is the happiest country of all, followed by Switzerland and Austria. (The U.S. came in at 23.)
I’ve never been to Denmark, but I have spent some wonderfully happy times in both Switzerland and Austria.
Since I so thoroughly enjoyed Anthony F. Lewis’ first novel, The Third Revolution, I’m sad to report that its just-published sequel, Middle America, is a disappointment.
The Third Revolution was a political nail-biter. A real corker about a constitutional battle that erupts in 2013 when the state of Montana resists an overreaching One Nation Act that federalizes literally everything. Montana is threatened with martial law and even military action, but by book’s end, it successfully secedes from the Union. Of course, there are murky waters ahead for a new, independent state, and I anticipated a blockbuster sequel.
The cover of Middle America promises that “the Third Revolution continues.” And when the book picks up the story five years after Third Revolution, Idaho, North and South Dakota, and Wyoming have already joined Montana to form the Confederation of Middle American States. Here, free markets rule. There are no income or corporate taxes, no government entitlements, and there’s no state oversight of business. There are no victimless crimes; gambling, prostitution, and recreational drug use are legal. The economies of the Confederation’s member states boom, while the U.S. continues its fall into increased deficit, debt, and high unemployment figures.
When I launched into Middle America, I expected counterrevolution to lurk in every statist U.S. nook and cranny. I expected a rip-roaring struggle of liberty against power. But few authentic dangers lurk anywhere in this novel. Very little of importance actually occurs. We’re re-introduced to the “revolutionaries” we met in the first book, and even a few of the old villains. But they essentially run in place during Middle America’s 377 pages. Financial shenanigans are uncovered at Montana’s premier resort, and powers in Washington, D.C., seem to be involved. Ho-hum. There’s a surprisingly lightweight kidnapping story that fills about 80 pages. There’s even a very tight presidential race crammed into the finish, but I was unconvinced that its outcome, whatever it was, would have any real impact on the newly formed Confederation. At the end of the novel, things seem to be, well, status quo, just as they were on page one. Forces of statism may have been temporarily hindered, but the “revolution” hasn’t gained any real ground.
I like this series’ cast of characters. I even enjoyed spending some time with them again this past week. I just wish they’d had more to do. Middle America seems like a lackluster bridge between its predecessor and the third novel of a trilogy. I hope there are more exciting things to come in Anthony Lewis’ next book.
Cato Craft of the Radio Free Liberty podcast, disheartened by the Libertarian Party debacle at Portland earlier this month, proposes the party fold up its tent, finally eschew politics as incompatible with liberty, and re-launch as an SDS-like, direct action “Libertarian Army.” He suggests that its first action might be a strike against the War on Drugs with a massive civil disobedience for marijuana legalization.
I don’t care much for the militaristic sound of a Libertarian Army, and I believe strongly that a more vital first strike at this time should be aimed at U.S. foreign policy. But overall, I think Cato’s idea is very interesting. Listen to the podcast about his proposal.
While conservatives everywhere bitch about Leftists who wear "radical chic" t-shirts sporting the image of "socialist murderer" Che Guevara, t-shirts featuring this message from Ann Coulter now seem to be all the rage among neocons.
“[The movie] looks like it was pieced together using a Commodore 64 computer. The graphics are terrible, the production value is non-existent, and the voiceover by filmmaker Aaron Russo sounds like a lung cancer patient on his last lung. But none of these things will stop the slow-building paranoia levels from simmering in your brain. ...
“Russo sees the United States as having lost its way, headed toward a police state, not so slowly but surely. As nothing more than an eye-opening look at the way financial institutions control our lives, this film is devastating enough, but Russo follows the natural pathways to the worldwide bigger picture. America: Freedom to Fascism is designed to overwhelm and frighten, and Mr. Russo should consider his mission accomplished.”
New libertarian friends Gail and Dick, who have already seen the Russo movie, told me over lunch today that at least one screening is scheduled soon in San Luis Obispo, just a few miles north of us here in Big Ditch. I will be in line.
[The following first appeared in the March 1994 issue of my old out of step newsletter. It was written shortly after the notorious Northridge earthquake, which explains the rubble reference.]
A colleague and I were navigating freeway rubble and Caltrans detours from downtown to Santa Monica one morning last month. Our conversation had touched on Schindler’s List, illegal immigrants, and the proposed national health care ID card. “I can’t figure it,” he said finally. “Just when I’ve got you pegged a reactionary, you make a liberal remark.”
My friend revels in being part of the “proletariat.” Gerry Spence calls that faceless majority the “breathing dead.” I call it the “rabble.” And whenever I confound the rabble, I suppose I’m on the right non-track. So I accepted the compliment without comment. Then our talk moved on to issues less tricky, like Macintosh versus IBM for desktop publishing.
This month marks a two-year anniversary for this broadsheet. And there are still readers, both regular and occasional, who don’t quite get where I’m coming from. One was aghast at the vitriol I launched at the Clinton White House in January. “I suppose you think George Bush was a better president than Bill Clinton!” she charged, misunderstanding me altogether.
Granted, in the course of the past 18 issues, I’ve never stated specifically my social/political philosophy. I’d thought it would become gradually clear as we proceeded month to month. But maybe not. So, before entering another year of publication, perhaps I should briefly define my viewpoint, just for the record.
It’s simple: I am for individuals applying social power, creating voluntary relationships in a free environment. And I oppose State power passionately.
The State, as Albert Jay Nock pointed out so eloquently, is an anti-social institution — no matter who heads it or what “philosophy” fuels it. In response to my angry Clintonite: Clinton Bush Reagan Carter Ford Nixon ad nauseum — all of them have promoted greater State power and weaker social power. Each has had a utopian faith in the State. Each has believed that through political action (i.e., coercion and violence), mankind can be made better — despite history’s evidence that quite the opposite always occurs. What’s worse, I think each of them confirms Thomas Paine’s assertion that “the trade of governing has always been a monopoly of the most ignorant and the most vicious of mankind.” As Hemingway might have said, In any “democracy,” the scum also rises.
At any time, based on our discussion of the moment, I may call myself an anarchist, a libertarian, an anarcho-capitalist, a paleo-rightist, a radical Lockean, or any number of things. But I am always an ardent individualist. I have absolute confidence in the capacity of individuals to improve their own lives. I have no faith, on the other hand, in the ability of the collective masses to do the same.
For that reason, I am not a joiner. I am not a member of any political party. Nor am I a small-D democrat or a small-R republican. Nor a reformer per se. Like the great Frank Chodorov, I’m “inclined to distrust political power no matter who uses it.” So I am content to better my understanding, lift my values, and act as an intelligent and responsible human being.
And, of course, I am content to occasionally “minister to the Remnant,” letting off a little steam along the way. Such is the purpose of this letter.
Kane County, Illinois, cops drove this car around for a week before an officer noticed the message written on its passenger side. Seems the county sheriff’s department orders plain white patrol cars, then has a local company apply the graphics. This message was applied by an employee celebrating his last day before retirement.
I adore books, especially really nice books. And for almost 20 years, I’ve been a pretty steady customer of Easton Press, “America’s leading publisher of fine leather-bound books.” Every volume Easton produces is gorgeous, printed on acid-neutral paper and featuring hubbed spines accented with 22-karet gold, moiré fabric endsheets, gilded page ends, and a bound-in, satin-ribbon page marker. And every volume is expensive, running anywhere from $59 to $149.
The first purchase I made from Easton Press was a three-volume, centenary edition of The Complete Sherlock Holmes. Since then, I’ve bought a six-volume set of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan novels and a five-volume set of his Mars books, a set of Ayn Rand’s novels, a three-volume collection of Conan Doyle’s Professor Challenger stories, and the 50-volume Harvard Classics. Yeah, I’ve got a lot of money wrapped up in these books, but I adore them. I can open one up and sit for hours, just smelling the leather. Right now, I’m eying a wonderful set of the first six Tom Swift books by Victor Appleton and another set of Baroness Orczy’s Scarlet Pimpernel novels.
But to the point of this story...
Easton’s latest catalog arrived in today’s mail. Some books just shouldn’t be bound in leather. Here are a few items I will not be adding to my library anytime soon:
The Maya Angelou Collection (six volumes, one signed, $354) The House Plant Encyclopedia ($99) Miles Gone By, by William F. Buckley, Jr. (signed, $99) Ending the Vietnam War, by Henry Kissinger (signed, $99) Our Endangered Values, by Jimmy Carter (signed, $126) Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin (signed, $79.50) The Warren Commission Report ($96)
Here’s a great antidote for Middle East Crisis burnout: the biggest laughs I’ve had in the past day or two were found in the latest Dateline Jasoom podcast from Burroughsian friend “Elmo,” correspondent for the Chicago bureau of The Barsoomian Blade, the tabloid newspaper of Mars. Elmo recently traveled up the WazooRiver to the jungle estate of Tarzan for an exclusive interview with Lady Greystoke, Jane Clayton herself. Do not miss this!
The Cato Institute today released Radley Balko’s Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America, a white paper on SWAT teams and their increasing use in what was once routine local police work. Balko shows, unfortunately not to the surprise of most of us, that forced, unannounced drug raids on American homes are now common — 40,000 a year, by one estimate — and “are needlessly subjecting nonviolent drug offenders, bystanders, and wrongly targeted civilians to the terror of having their homes invaded while they’re sleeping, usually by teams of heavily armed paramilitary units dressed not as police officers but as soldiers.” The paper is a good reference and is available as a free PDF download (link above).
Balko has also produced an interactive map that plots every botched raid he found during his research, with a description of what happened and a list of sources. Very cool — and very frightening.
The roar of the .45 shook the room. Charlotte staggered back a step. Her eyes were a symphony of incredulity, an unbelieving witness to truth. Slowly, she looked down at the ugly swelling in her naked belly where the bullet went in. A thin trickle of blood welled out.
I stood up in front of her and shoved the gun into my pocket. I turned and looked at the rubber plant behind me. There on the table was the gun, with the safety catch off and the silencer still attached. Those loving arms would have reached it nicely. A face that was waiting to be kissed was really waiting to be splattered with blood when she blew my head off. My blood. When I heard her fall I turned around. Her eyes had pain in them now, the pain preceding death. Pain and unbelief.
“How c-could you?” she gasped.
I only had a moment before talking to a corpse, but I got it in.
Here’s a new TV series I’m actually looking forward to seeing! The SciFi Channel will soon launch an animated series called The Amazing Screw-On Head. It’s from Mike Mignola, the creator of Hellboy, and features the voices of Paul Giamatti, David Hyde Pierce, and Molly Shannon. The SciFi Channel website describes it this way:
“In this hilarious send-up of Lovecraftian horror and steampunk adventure, President Abraham Lincoln’s top spy is a bodyless head known only as Screw-On Head.
“When arch-fiend Emperor Zombie steals an artifact that will enable him to threaten all life on Earth, the task of stopping him is assigned to Screw-On Head. Fortunately, Screw-On Head is not alone on this perilous quest. He is aided by his multitalented manservant, Mr. Groin, and by his talking canine cohort, Mr. Dog.”
You can see the entire pilot episode at the website link above.
Update: For those of you who suffer with painfully slow (i.e., dial-up) Internet connections, SciFi Channel will broadcast the pilot episode on July 27. Check your listings.
[I wrote the following book review for the out of step newsletter in September 1993. And now I've got a hankering to read Poul Anderson’s Harvest of Stars again. Time for a trip to Nan’s Used Books!]
Three years ago, Poul Anderson’s The Boat of a Million Years raised its lone head from the glut of dystopian science fiction that dominated the book market. It was a life-affirming, speculative history of humankind, spanning not centuries but millennia. It was probably the last classic sf epic we’d see, I told one friend, because: 1) the sf market seemed hopelessly swamped by cyberpunk nightmares and yarns of lute-wielding dragons, and 2) I couldn’t imagine even an old master like Poul Anderson having another such novel in him. Then last month, I read Anderson’s latest, Harvest of Stars.
Harvest of Stars doesn’t encompass quite the massive timeframe that Boat of a Million Years did but, as Shawna McCarthy wrote recently in Science Fiction Age, “It’s got pounds of scope. It has scope hanging out of its pockets and stuck in its hair.” Harvest is packed with good ideas. Its characters are Heinleinian and memorable, principled but flawed. And its events are big. Real big.
Anderson details a rapidly deteriorating North America ruled by the “benevolent” Avantists, a Hubbard-like theocracy intent on crushing liberty and dissent for the “public good.” All that stands in the government’s way is Fireball, a Japanese-style interplanetary corporation dedicated to non-coercive conduct and exploring the stars. Fireball’s founder and leader is tough individualist Anson Guthrie, whose mind and personality now “live” as a download in a black metal box. But to terminate Fireball, the Avantists have captured a copy of the Guthrie download and reprogrammed it to serve them.
This struggle between the Avantists and Fireball, each led by a Guthrie “electronic ghost,” makes an exciting adventure story that’s pretty much resolved after 288 pages. Most writers might have ended the novel there, but Anderson has 106 pages left in him, and it’s in this third and final section that Harvest of Stars really sings. I believe this hundred pages ranks among the most breath-catching stretches of great science fiction writing ever, dealing with nothing less than humanity’s cosmic destiny.
Harvest of Stars is a tonic for all the anti-life pessimism that’s permeated the sf genre for the past decade.
“Once you’re elected to office, you become a less important person in history. That is, you may become more important in the eyes of the establishment, in that you have the power to make decisions but less important as a factor in social change because as soon as you take office, you are being battered by all of the instruments of wealth and power, which diminish whatever moral compassion you initially brought to that office.”
[The following, which I wrote shortly after the Los Angeles riots of 1992, originally appeared in the June 1992 issue of my old out of step newsletter. When you come to references to “Studs,” a short-lived syndicated TV show, or Arsenio, please smile and keep in mind that this piece was written 14 years ago, although its message remains valid today.]
“We have been living under the delusion that government can solve the social problems of the people. Only the people can solve their own problems. ... The neighborhoods have the right to control their own affairs.” — Norman Mailer (1969 New York mayoralty race)
I knew L.A.’s immediate crisis was over when Channel 11 brought “Studs” back at . Then came the real crisis: the parade of politicians, journalists, and Mike Farrell types to assess damage, point fingers, and predictably call for more government spending on so-called assistance and rescue packages for the inner cities.
But these bandaids of state “compassion” come with a price tag neither Arsenio nor Newsweek will tell you about: more regimentation and restraint of neighborhoods already suffering from too little freedom and too much state control.
Case in point: South Central L.A. merchants wiped out during the riots were first told by City Hall that the usual red tape would be sidestepped and businesses would be rebuilt quickly. But the City’s social planners soon changed their minds.
It now seem that certain businesses — gun shops, liquor stores, secondhand stores, swap meets, and auto repair shops — can’t rebuild, after all, without running a governmental gauntlet of public hearings, licensing, and analyses. In other words, the City masters have taken the opportunity offered them by the burning and looting of L.A. to re-engineer South Central’s commercial areas and eliminate those businesses they consider “unsavory.”
Forget what the neighborhood wants. City Hall will tell them what it thinks they need.
Well, what we all need — not just the people of the inner cities — is a lot less central planning, not more. What we need is more localized control of the decision-making and more control over our neighborhoods and our own lives.
For example, the gangs of South Central say that they are at war with the Los Angeles cops. Of course, they are. The LAPD has long been a muscle-bound, paramilitary force in that community. Armed and controlled by centralized government, police officers assigned to the area harass citizens all day, then return home to Woodland Hills or Redondo Beach at night. Few cops have any personal ties to the communities in which they work.
Good-hearted liberals say that the police force must build better rapport between themselves and the Los Angeles community — as if this idea is “groundbreaking.” But why stop there?
Police should be managed by the very neighborhoods they serve. This ought to begin with localized police recruitment.
“As residents of the areas which they served, recognized as friends and neighbors by the local citizenry,” Jerome Tuccille wrote in Radical Libertarianism, “policemen would be more conscientious about preserving life and property in their own communities.” If cops have a stake in the areas they serve, in other words, “kinder and gentler” service will result.
Rather than lobby for state monies and further empower cumbersome, inefficient, repressive government, we must lobby for direct local control of education, housing, sanitation, parks, and police.
Back in March, when I reviewed Ultraviolet, Kurt Wimmer’s latest sci-fi action movie, I confessed some disappointment. It was near-plotless, I said, and the vampires-in-the-future nonsense was unnecessary to what little plot there was. But I loved its videogame-like action sequences and the reintroduction of “gun-kata” from Wimmer’s earlier (and brilliant) Equilibrium. And most important, I loved spending 90 minutes with the sveltest and sexiest sci-fi action babe of all time, Milla Jovovich.
Brian Richardson took a second look at Ultraviolet last week on DVD — this time at the extended cut, with seven extra minutes — and found that the plot makes a bit more sense now than it did originally. “There seems to be more exposition than I remember,” Brian writes, “and this movie badly needed exposition.”
Brian rented the Ultraviolet DVD. I bought a copy. There is more exposition, as Brian said, and the plot does make more sense. But I’ll cut to the chase: what matters is Milla. Almost every shot lingers lovingly over her gorgeous face, her bare midriff, and her splendid backside as she runs, jumps, rides cycles, and kills literally hundreds of government agents. Ultraviolet is an anarcho-sexist-pig’s dream. And for this ASP (have I coined a new acronym?), Ultraviolet is well worth repeated viewings. An absolute must-have for diehard Jovovich aficionados.
By the way, fans who’d like to see a much different kind of performance from Milla should rent a 2001 film called You Stupid Man. It’s a been-there-seen-that romantic comedy that I don’t think hit many theaters. But Jovovich shines in it; she actually acts, plays "adorable" remarkably well, and makes an otherwise silly movie charming.
The news is all over the Internet: the Libertarian Party has successfully gutted its national platform from over 60 planks to about a dozen. All in an effort to make the LP more palatable to the political mainstream. Among the items now missing from the LP platform are the non-aggression principle, essential to the very heart of libertarianism, and the plank against foreign intervention. Read L.K. Samuels' report at yesterday's LewRockwell.com.
Samuel Edward Konkin III warned radical libertarians about the evils of party politics 35 years ago. Murray Rothbard warned us about the dangers of "political pragmatism" 30 years ago.
You can't fight the State effectively through political means, friends. Not without compromising your principles. You just can't.
LPers, fer chrissakes...wake up and smell the tear gas!
I got a nifty new MP3 player for my birthday this week. And the first thing I loaded on it is what’s so far available of the podcast novel The Imaginary Bomb, written by B.W. Richardson and narrated by my old chum Warren Bluhm. That it’s a terrific, highly entertaining, retro sci-fi story should be recommendation enough. But Warren’s performance and production makes it a real “keeper.” I’ve had a smile on my face during every minute I’ve listened (and I’m on my second go-through).
Knowing Warren for as long as I have, I suspect there’s as much Bluhm to The Imaginary Bomb as there is Richardson. Brian may have written the darn thing, but Warren’s put his own unique stamp on it. The guys are finishing up the podcast over the next few days, so go to the link, start downloading, and catch up, fer cryin’ out loud. You’ll have a blast. No kidding.
[Illustration is by 2006 Hugo nominee Teddy Harvia.]
Congratulations to friend B.K. Marcus, whose baby son, anarchistically named Benjamin Tucker Marcus (I love it!), was born yesterday, July 5. Coincidentally, I was celebrating my own birthday yesterday. I already feel a comradeship with little Benjamin.
[This statement by MLL comrade Victor Koman appeared originally in New Libertarian Weekly, Vol. 3, No. 35 (August 8, 1976), under the title “This is the Time – NOW!” I think it’s appropriate to reprint it on this Independence Day celebrating 230 years of American “liberty.” Thank you, Vic.]
We’ve played their game long enough. The bitter taste in your mouth is the filth from their sandbox. Social democracy is the vilest sham with which Leviathan’s defenders have ruled us for the past thousand years. You cannot stop the Mafia by becoming the Godfather. You cannot clean up a dung heap by joining the pigs in their wallow. You cannot cure cancer by treating it with carcinogens.
You cannot end the State by becoming a Statist.
Throw down the banner of Compromise; burn the flag of Expediency. Tear apart the standard of “After we get elected...” All are dreams drawn from the opiate of power lust, the drug offered by the State to addict and blind the idealist, to divide and conquer us all.
When the flow of history brings men to the point where a privileged few, through the power of the State, can control and dictate the lives of hundreds of millions of others, when they can destroy incentive, crush hope, and shatter lives, it is time for all free persons to cease their cooperation with these plunderers, these hideous creatures.
For those in power, those who control the State, those who support even the idea of a State have pillaged us through taxation. They have ravaged our currency with worthless paper, bringing chaos to peaceful transactions. They have slaughtered our children in their brutal wars, setting stranger against stranger who before had no reason to hate. They have strangled our thoughts by seizing the airwaves in our name for their purposes. They have choked our spirit, punishing our successes and rewarding our failures with their hordes of Regulators and Officers, who suck out our substance then call for our souls. They have ruined our Word, making Treaties and Agreements in our name when they had no right to speak for any but themselves, and then have forced us to back their nefarious deals with our lives. They have used their laws to set white against black, worker against employer, young against old, and Man against Woman. These vile monsters, these wielders of the mace of Government, are nothing more than loathsome Thieves, Murderers, and Liars.
We owe them nothing, least of all the promise to abide by their rules in exchange for a division of their Booty, real or intangible.
It is the right of any Person, in light of the dreaded oppression to which all government leads, to break the chains of slavery which bind them to another and to guard precious Freedom from those who would steal it in the name of security for all. It is their right, their natural, glorious Right to ignore, decry, interfere with or destroy utterly any individual or group who rules by force — it is the Right of all Free Persons to cast off the State, to sever from their lives the idea of the State.
It is to the ends of Liberty that a revolt must serve, and so neither must its means be contrary to Freedom’s principles. It is to the goal of Liberty which we pledge, again, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honour.
[Unlike the “Founding Fathers,” I speak only for myself. Anyone who agrees with this Statement is free to sign it. Those who don’t sign it aren’t bound by it. — Victor Koman]
Since the subject of Superman has come up a lot this past week, I should probably reveal a dirty little secret: my favorite live-action interpretation of the Supes mythology is ABC’s Lois & Clark TV series (1993-1997). I know, I know. More often than not, the show was dominated by cornball villains (with the exception of John Shea’s Lex Luthor, who dominated season one, and a unique-to-the-L&C-Universe time-traveler named Tempus, played brilliantly in a few episodes by Lane Davies). But being a romantic (still another dirty little secret), I don’t think the Superman story has ever been more charming and clever than it was on Lois & Clark. And never were two performers as perfect in the roles of Lane and Kent as were Teri Hatcher and Dean Cain. Teri was beautiful, spunky, smart, and hardnosed when it counted, not at all the whiner she now portrays on Desperate Housewives. And Cain’s Clark was spot-on — never a milquetoast but still insecure the way a mild-mannered reporter is meant to be. If you haven’t seen the series, three of its four seasons are now available on DVD. They’re well worth a look.
There’s been a lot of pissing and moaning among conservatives (i.e., hawks) because the old “truth, justice, and the American Way” slogan is dropped in Superman Returns. During a Daily Planet staff meeting, editor Perry White (Frank Langella) refers to “truth, justice, and all that stuff.” I first heard this gripe about the phrase change a week or so before the movie’s release in a post by Jason Apuzzo on the Libertas blog:
“The Superman Returns press materials tell me that Superman now stands for ‘truth, justice and all that is good.’ ‘All that is good’ is apparently the phrase of choice when ‘The American Way’ sounds too — what? Imperialistic? Jingoistic? Symptomatic of Bush-style militarism? I’m not sure, exactly. All I know is this ‘American Way’ stuff is now apparently too edgy and controversial for a Warner Brothers product shipped to Peru, Pakistan and Malaysia. Don’t want to offend anyone!”
Fact is, if memory serves me, “The American Way” was not part of the Superman mythos until it popped up on the old George Reeves TV series of the 1950s — 15 years after Superman’s comic book debut — when the Cold War was in full bloom. This was about the same time, incidentally, that the words “under God” were added to the Pledge of Allegiance in order to thumb the Collective American Nose at godless commies.