Monday, February 26, 2007

Big Brother is, uh, listening!

A year or so back, a Starbucks acquaintance told me that George Orwell’s 1984 was “failed prophecy.” To his way of thinking, the year 1984 had passed two decades ago, “and none of that stuff has happened yet.” Oh, puh-leeze!

War is peace, freedom is slavery — do only radical libertarians understand that we’re already living in the Orwellian dystopia? Anyway, it’s come to my attention that a wonderful old NBC University Theater radio production of Orwell’s classic is available online. Originally aired on August 27, 1949, this is the very first adaptation of any sort of 1984, and it stars old Phileas Fogg himself, the late David Niven. Listen to it, or download it, right here.

Friday, February 23, 2007

I'm reading a book bigger than my head

My copy of the almost 800-page monster that is Brian Doherty’s new Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement arrived Wednesday. I’ve barely made a dent so far. Twice I’ve started reading from the front of the book, become distracted by one of the many, many endnotes, then found myself browsing. I figure no matter how I read the goddamn thing — forwards, backwards, or whatever — I’ll end up devouring it all eventually. In the meantime, I can report that I’m enjoying myself. Having lived, however, through 36 years of movement history myself — often actively, frequently on the sidelines — I’m naturally running into errors and missteps that are sometimes important, often not, but annoying anyway. But I’m quibbling. Brian Doherty has produced a much needed movement history, a monstrous task for which he should be heartily commended.

Longtime Left Libertarian comrade Jeff Riggenbach has written a cautionary review of the tome for Rational Review, itself a nifty personal history of this movement of ours. Check it out.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Fox News just doesn't "get it"

Fox News Channel’s right-wing alternative to Comedy Central’s popular The Daily Show debuted last night. Produced by Joel Surnow, who’s responsible for 24, it’s called The Half-Hour News Hour. For me, it ran about a half-hour too long. I snapped it off after about 15 minutes, even though the program’s terribly loud laugh-track seemed to be busting a gut and having one hell of a great time.

Here’s the problem: the show’s not funny. What it offers so far are warmed-over, satiric “news bytes” that were better done by the “left-wing” Daily Show a couple of years ago. Last night, they made fun of easy targets like the ACLU and child psychologists. Yawn. One running bit involved actor Ed Begley trying unsuccessfully to arrive at the studio for an interview; of course, he never got there, because the hybrid car he drives has no oomph. (Kinda like this program.) Ho hum. The cast is weak; the show’s two “anchors” act like poor cousins to Chevy Chase and Jane Curtin when they anchored SNL’s “newscasts” 30 years ago.

What Surnow and Fox don’t seem to understand is that The Daily Show works because it’s anti-establishment. It’s neither right-wing nor left-wing, neither conservative nor liberal. It spoofs everybody. Its agenda is to lampoon the whole damn political machine, not just a single wing of it.

Three cheers for The Daily Show! As for Fox’s unfunny Half-Hour News Hour, Mr. Surnow should stick to what he does best — producing the most exciting hour-long TV dramas ever.

Listen to Carl Oglesby

The folks at Black Op Radio have interviewed Carl Oglesby, the first president of Students for a Democratic Society (1965-66) and author of the classic book The Yankee and Cowboy War: Conspiracies from Dallas to Watergate (1976). The interview may be disjointed and meandering, but Oglesby’s theories about warring power elites and the effect of their war on U.S. history are always fascinating. “It isn’t the rebels who cause the troubles of the world,” Oglesby once said. “It’s the troubles that cause the rebels.” Listen to or download the interview right here.

DVD review: THE U.S. vs. JOHN LENNON

The title The U.S. vs. John Lennon does a bit of a disservice to this documentary by David Leaf and John Scheinfeld. Its scope is much broader than the immigration challenges of John and Yoko Lennon during the Nixon years; in fact, their INS woes fill only 15 to 20 minutes. What the filmmakers have produced is a stirring portrait of the New Left and the antiwar movement of the late 1960s and early ’70s told through the political activism of the Lennons. Using archival footage (much of which I’d never seen before, and I thought I’d seen it all) and recent interviews with everyone from Geraldo Rivera to Ron Kovic, from Noam Chomsky to Angela Davis, from John Sinclair to Gore Vidal, from G. Gordon Liddy to George McGovern, a story is beautifully spun from the Lennons’ years in New York City, when they built relationships with radical leaders, headlined benefit concerts, and consistently pushed the peace message. I think those moments when the film touches on radical strategy and tactics offer valuable insight for today’s young activists. (There is some very good bonus material on the DVD illustrating important parallels between the Nixon and Bush eras.)

Some viewers might fault the movie for its wart-free portrayal of John, and that’s probably a fair criticism. But the film doesn’t pretend to be a thorough biography of John and Yoko. Rather, its purpose is to present a satisfying, if not overly detailed, record of a difficult period of political struggle. There are lessons to be learned from The U.S. vs. John Lennon. And Leaf and Scheinfeld do a fine job of offering those lessons clearly and entertainingly. I highly recommend this DVD.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Stephen Colbert: "I am Howard Roark!"

Last Monday night, Jon Stewart of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show did his usual “hand-off” to Stephen Colbert, host of The Colbert Report. Colbert could be seen reading from an open copy of The Fountainhead.

Colbert:Independence is the only gauge of human virtue and value. What a man is and makes of himself — "

Stewart: “Stephen, what are you doing?”

Colbert: “It’s my fifth annual Stephen Colbert Objectivist Children’s Sleepover, when ten lucky inner-city youths and I spend the night studying the radical individualistic philosophy of Ayn Rand. Jimmy, are you sharing a cookie? What did I tell you about sharing? It rewards the weak.”

Stewart: “Gotta be getting close to bedtime for them now, no?”

Colbert: “Oh, it is, Jon. Goodnight, my little shrugging Atlases. (singing a lullaby) Go to sleep, go to sleep, it’s in your rational self-interest...”

After the lullaby, Stephen Colbert looks into the camera and declares, “I am Howard Roark!”

Jon Stewart cracks up.

[Hat tip to Wendy McElroy.]

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Restoring a sci-fi movie "masterpiece"

[Cross-posted to Rebels of Mars]

I first heard about Joseph P. McDonald’s lost movie “masterpiece” Destination: Mars! during my student years at Cal State Northridge in the1970s. Ace Badinage, the founder of our campus libertarian group, dallied in science fiction as much as politics, like most of us did, and got the idea to sponsor a freedom-oriented sci-fi film festival. He felt Destination: Mars! just had to be included. After all, McDonald's 1950s movie was something nobody had seen, since it was seized before release by the U.S. government for its possible Communist themes. So among sci-fi fans, and particularly libertarian fans (frefen), it was something of a longtime cause celebre. Ace believed that a promised screening of Destination: Mars! would draw oodles of free publicity and consequently a big crowd to our film fest. And it would certainly put our college libertarian club on the map.

Unfortunately, we were unable to track down a copy of Destination: Mars! Every sci-fi buff in the L.A. area had heard of it, but nobody seemed to have ever seen it. I’ll never forget the evening I finally got Forrest J. Ackerman on the phone and asked how we might snag a print of Destination: Mars! I thought at the time that everybody in the San Fernando Valley could probably hear Forry roar with laughter over my phone.

“You’re outta your nut, Conger,” he told me. “Even I’ve never seen McDonald’s movie. And it’s likely nobody ever will. The feds probably destroyed the goddamn master print in the late ’50s.”

But here it is, three decades later, and Destination: Mars! has been found, restored, and released on DVD by Dark Horse Indie Films through Image Entertainment. Was it worth the wait? Not at all.

I guess the film’s notoriety had me imagining that Joseph McDonald was a genius, so harassed by the government that he never made another movie after Destination: Mars! I guess I expected that maybe, since the movie had been seized, there was something truly dangerous about its content. There’s nothing dangerous about this cheesy rip-off of The Day the Earth Stood Still. The acting is cringingly bad, worse even than that found in most ’50s sci-fi flicks. And the less said about the special effects, the better. I doubt that George Pal lost any sleep over this movie.

Worst of all, this DVD is being advertised as a restoration of the movie. To the contrary, Destination: Mars! looks horrible. It shows every bit of its 50-plus years. Every speck of dust on the grainy black-and-white film is the size of an asteroid, and the poorly repaired film breaks give the movie a jumpy quality that’s very annoying.

OK, I gotta stop this now. The last six paragraphs are bullshit. I’ve been playing along with the mythology created just a few years ago by filmmaker-brothers Richard and Tor Lowry and their friend Chris Patton when they produced Destination: Mars!, a hilarious send-up of sci-fi B-movies. This film, which cost a whopping $6,000 to make (really!), is filled with every genre cliché in the book. And it’s smart as hell. The DVD even opens with a “mockumentary” about the movie and its “creator” Joseph McDonald, complete with interviews with surviving members of the crew and old footage from HUAC hearings. Brilliant!

Here’s the best part: Destination: Mars!, terrific as it is, has been released in a DVD package as a second feature. The first feature is a more recent film by the Lowrys called Monarch of the Moon, a bigger-budget (though not by much) six-chapter 1940s-style movie serial about a WWII superhero called Yellow Jacket, who flies with the aid of a gas-powered jetpack and who can communicate with — you guessed it — bees. If you love the old Saturday afternoon movie serials, you’ll adore Monarch. If you enjoyed Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow a couple of years back, you’ll discover that as good as it was, Monarch of the Moon beats it at every turn.

The two-disc DVD is filled with great stuff. You get commentaries from the filmmakers on both movies. You get behind-the-scenes material. You get two versions of Monarch, both in black-and-white and an amazing, oversaturated color. Heck, you even get a Dark Horse Yellow Jacket comic book.

This DVD package gets my highest rating. It’s absolutely boffo.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Gabriel Kolko: an end to American Empire?

The existence of the Soviet Empire and Naziism can be laid at the feet of World War I. Lenin was a “crank.” The U.S.’s Cold War with the USSR was phony. The American way of war is a dead-end. The end of American Empire is near. Republicans must be run out of power, but Democrats offer no improvement. Hillary is an “opportunist” who will say anything to gain power.

There’s a lot to digest in this meaty interview with New Left historian and political and foreign policy analyst Gabriel Kolko, author of the recent The Age of War: The United States Confronts the World. This is hot stuff, worth more than just a single listen.

A splintered antiwar movement

John V. Walsh offers a caustic analysis of the January 27 antiwar demonstration in Washington, D.C., on today’s CounterPunch (for my money, the best Left alternative to Lamenting a “splintered antiwar movement,” he writes, “The roster of speakers for the UFPJ [United for Peace and Justice] demonstration ... speaks volumes. The key was not so much who was included but who was not. The list of speakers certainly had a lot of wonderful activists in the peace movement, but to a considerable degree it was a line-up of Democrats and movie stars.”

Walsh reports that Ralph Nader, “the only antiwar candidate in the 2004 elections,” was pointedly not invited to speak. “The non-invitation,” he writes, “removed Nader from the movement every bit as effectively as the censors armed with air brushes removed dissidents in the ‘socialist’ Czech republic chronicled by Milan Kundera.”

Libertarians should particularly be interested in this bit from Walsh’s piece:

“There was not a single Libertarian speaker even though the Libertarians and Old Right have been far more outspoken in opposing the war than the liberal ‘Left.’ Compare the pages of The American Conservative or with the editorials of The Nation, which endorsed the pro-war Kerry candidacy in 2004. This writer tried for months to get Ron Paul, the Libertarian/Republican Congressman from Texas, now a Republican presidential candidate, invited to speak at the rally and did so also in 2005. Several of us made an appeal to get Justin Raimondo, the Libertarian editor of, invited to speak. We got no response from UFPJ, and still have received none. In contrast, Raimondo advertised the UFPJ demonstration in a prominent place on his web site, and he even offered to pay his own air fare to D.C. to speak. But no response was visible. UFPJ was just plain rude to Raimondo. In general it appears that the liberal ‘Left’ has scant knowledge about the Libertarians and less desire to acquire it. Libertarians are just ‘a bunch of selfish people,’ according to the PC liberals. But there are more things in heaven and earth than the very PC have dreamed of.”

Walsh correctly regrets that “the peace movement is being increasingly tied to the Democratic Party.” He observes: “Notice how these rallies occur now only in non-election years, nicely tailored to get activists to work for Dems, but not to pressure the Dems to take a strong anti-war stand.” Walsh concludes:

“...if the antiwar movement is divided, we are subject to being conquered just as surely as the Sunni and the Shia. It is time for the Democratic Party to serve the Peace Movement and not the other way around. We shall see what course UFPJ takes to turn this around. Right now, it does not look good.”

On shrugging off right-wing attitudes

Speaking of class conflict theory (see my last post), let me add for the umpteenth time that a big problem with today’s “mainstream” libertarian movement remains its adamant refusal to abandon old right-wing attitudes about class structure. In reading Murray Rothbard’s keynote address to the 1977 Libertarian Party Convention (now available online), I was pleased to see that Rothbard addressed this very problem three decades ago.

“Too many libertarians have absorbed the negative and elitist conservative worldview to the effect that our enemy today is the poor, who are robbing the rich; the blacks, who are robbing the whites; or the masses, who are robbing heroes and businessmen. In fact, it is the state that is robbing all classes, rich and poor, black and white, worker and businessman alike; it is the state that is ripping us all off; it is the state that is the common enemy of mankind. And who is the state? It is any group who manages to seize control of the state’s coercive machinery of theft and privilege. Of course these ruling groups have differed in composition through history, from kings and nobles to privileged merchants to Communist parties to the Trilateral Commission. But whoever they are, they can only be a small minority of the population, ruling and robbing the rest of us for their power and wealth. And since they are a small minority, the state rulers can only be kept in power by deluding us about the wisdom or necessity of their rule. Hence, it is our major task to oppose and desanctify their entrenched rule, in the same spirit that the first libertarian revolutionaries opposed and desanctified their rulers two hundred years ago. We must strip the mystical veil of sanctity from our rulers just as Tom Paine stripped the sanctity from King George III. And in this task we libertarians are not the spokesmen for any ethnic or economic class; we are the spokesmen for all classes, for all of the public; we strive to see all of these groups united, hand-in-hand, in opposition to the plundering and privileged minority that constitutes the rulers of the state.”

Friday, February 09, 2007

Revisiting "Agorist Class Theory"

Thanks, Claire Wolfe, for the kind words about Agorist Class Theory: A Left Libertarian Approach to Class Conflict Analysis, the free e-book I stitched together last year based on unfinished work by the late Samuel Edward Konkin III. Writes Claire: “This 38-page treatise on Agorist Class Theory is nowhere near as daunting as it looks. Very lucidly written and nicely put-together.”

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Cartoon cheesecake?

My pal Warren over at Uncle Warren’s Attic has had a “thing” for the reinvigorated Fritzi Ritz (from the Nancy comic strip) for quite some time now. But only this week has he declared her “the sexiest babe on the comic strip page.” He may be right about that. But his declaration prompts me to offer my list of the sexiest animated (i.e., cartoon) babes of the last few years. Here they are:

Hawkgirl from Justice League Unlimited

Supergirl from Justice League Unlimited

Wonder Woman from Justice League Unlimited (are you seeing a pattern here?)

And finally, my all-time favorite...

Bounty hunter Faye Valentine, from the anime series Cowboy Bebop.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Laugh it up, monkeyboy!

What a dynamite week for podcasts about my favorite movies! First, as I mentioned just a few days ago, the fellas at Out of the Past discussed the classic film noir Kiss Me Deadly. And now, the always entertaining Summer and David are joined by newcomer Brian at Kick Ass Mystic Ninjas and devote an entire hour to a quite different movie — the 1984 sci-fi comedy masterpiece The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. Listen to or download the podcast right here. No matter where you go, there you are!


The usual comment I’ve heard about John Scalzi’s last two novels — Old Man’s War and its follow-up The Ghost Brigades — is that they marvelously carried the Heinlein tradition into the 21st century while breaking new ground of their own. Well, with his latest book, The Android’s Dream, Scalzi now seems to be channeling the comedic spirit of the late Robert Sheckley. And he’s doing it with a clever twist that I’m coming to recognize as pure Scalzi. Dream is a satiric, laugh-out-loud, white-knuckled sci-fi thriller. And I’ve already put it on my nominations ballot for a Hugo this summer.

Summarizing the plot points of The Android’s Dream — and you’re right, the title is an homage to Philip K. Dick — is too much work for me on a lazy Sunday. I’ll just say that the novel opens with a political assassination-by-farts and ends with a galactic realignment involving bureaucrats, lobbyists, mercenaries, AI entities, a sheep-human hybrid, and a religion right out of L. Ron Hubbard’s playbook. I grinned all the way through it.

No doubt about it, John Scalzi is a rising star in the science fiction genre. And here’s some good news: he’s grinding out novels at a remarkable pace; this is his third book in two years. And here's the best news of all: he's already working on a follow-up to The Android's Dream. Go, John, go!

Puppy Bowl III

It's Super Bowl Sunday, and I really don't care, beyond the good barbeque I expect to eat late this afternoon. But I do plan to catch some of Puppy Bowl III, which Animal Planet will broadcast while the Colts and Bears do their thing over on CBS. What a hoot!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Boiling down and blowing up film noir

Robert Aldrich’s 1955 classic film noir Kiss Me Deadly is the subject of this month’s Out of the Past podcast. Bitchin’. Not only is this one of my favorite movies, Ralph Meeker is my favorite portrayer of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer. As the guys from the podcast explain, the film “makes telling changes to Mickey Spillane’s 1952 source novel. What was a story of greed and social corruption becomes an allegory of Cold War hysteria. Plot and character cede the stage to emotion and character type. While earlier films noir portrayed the downfall of a flawed person whose bad decisions had far-reaching social consequences, Kiss Me Deadly instead pits simplified personages and storylines against an ecstatically elaborate camera vision and sound design. It is at once the boiling down and the blowing up of noir — executed with a degree of camp only the mid-1950’s could muster — and as such, it is the fulcrum on which hard-boiled literary tradition and noir film history teeter-totter.”

See the movie, then listen to the podcast. Or do it the other way around. It’s all great, either way.

Jefferson Airplane: my embryonic journey

Forty years ago this month, RCA Victor Records released Surrealistic Pillow. I was just 12 and still puzzling over the lyrics to the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows,” so I didn’t pay much attention to Jefferson Airplane until that summer. That’s when I saw the band on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. After watching Grace Slick belt out “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit,” my yearlong woody for Diana Rigg had a new target of infatuation. Ample whining got me the cash to buy Surrealistic Pillow, and a lifetime love for anything Grace and Airplane was born.

Some notes on Pillow:

* The LP’s cover was designed by the band’s founder and lead singer Marty Balin — in blue. The suits at RCA, more “hip” than Marty to the likes and dislikes of the blossoming flower generation, changed the color to bubblegum pink.

* The first single from the album was Skip Spence’s “My Best Friend,” with “How Do You Feel” on the B-side. Another RCA idea. It peaked at 103 on the singles chart. A month after its release, Pillow had reached only 137 on Billboard’s Top LPs chart.

* “Somebody to Love,” backed with “She Has Funny Cars,” was the album’s second single, released in April. It entered at 88. By June, it had peaked at 5.

* Following “Somebody to Love” and the singles release of “White Rabbit” in August, Surrealistic Pillow galloped up the Billboard chart to number 3, stuck behind Sgt. Peppers and the Monkees’ Headquarters. Not shabby.

Finally, the Pillow LP plays prominently in one of my favorite moments from Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas:

“Music!” he snarled. “Turn it up. Put that tape on.”

“what tape?”

“The new one. It’s right there.”

I picked up the radio and noticed that it was also a tape recorder — one of those things with a cassette-unit built in. And the tape, Surrealistic Pillow, needed only to be flipped over. He had already gone through side one — at a volume that must have been audible in every room within a radius of one hundred yards, walls and all.

“ ‘White Rabbit,’ ” he said. “I want a rising sound.”

“You’re doomed,” I said. “I’m leaving here in two hours — and then they’re going to come up here and beat the mortal shit out of you with big saps. Right there in the tub.”

“I dig my own graves,” he said. “Green water and the White Rabbit...put it on; don’t make me use this.” His arm lashed out of the water, the hunting knife gripped in his fist.

“Jesus,” I muttered. And at that point I figured he was beyond help — lying there in the tub with a head full of acid and the sharpest knife I’ve ever seen, totally incapable of reason, demanding the White Rabbit. This is it, I thought. I’ve gone as far as I can with this waterhead. This time it’s a suicide trip. This time he wants it. He’s ready. ...”