Sunday, September 30, 2007

Goodnight, Moneypenny

Lois Maxwell died yesterday in Australia at the age of 80. She'd been battling cancer. Maxwell was the first Miss Moneypenny in the 007 movies, playing opposite three Bonds and, as I recall, at least two M's in well over a dozen films. And she'll always be the real Moneypenny to those of us who started watching the Bond franchise way back when it first launched in the early 1960s. I'll miss you, Moneypenny, even though you were a bureaucratic, paper-pushing instrument of the British Empire.

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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Top 50 Dystopian Movies of All Time

Perhaps inspired by my list of top movie crime thrillers a couple of days ago, my pal Brian shares Snarkerati’s Top 50 Dystopian Movies of All Time. Not succumbing to just listing personal favorites, Snarkerati took fan ratings from the Internet Movie Database and Rotten Tomatoes, added them together, then found an average for each movie, which accounts for placement on the list. Pretty cool. And here’s what I find really interesting: 21 of the listed movies are right now in my personal DVD collection. Another six are movies I intend to buy when they finally come out as “special editions,” or their prices drop so low I just have to purchase them. Am I a depressing guy or what?

In case you’re interested, here are the 21 dystopian films I now own (with their ranking on the abovementioned list): Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (#1), Brazil (#3), Children of Men (#6), The Matrix (#7), The Road Warrior (#8), Minority Report (#9), 12 Monkeys (#14), Serenity (#15), RoboCop (#19), Akira (#20), V for Vendetta (#23), Fahrenheit 451 (#26), Total Recall (#29), Dark City (#30), George Pal’s version of The War of the Worlds (#31), THX-1138 (#34), Escape from New York (#35), the 1984 version of Nineteen Eighty-Four (#38), A Boy and His Dog (#40), Starship Troopers (#48), and Equilibrium (#50). The six I will buy eventually are: A Clockwork Orange (#2), Blade Runner (#5), Alphaville (#13), Gattaca (#25), They Live (#33), and Artificial Intelligence: AI (#38).

Oh, and I also own one of the movies Snarkerati offers as an “honorable mention”: Code 46.

Welcome to my nightmares.

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Friday, September 28, 2007

The product of tyranny, the price of freedom

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

A bouquet for Sarah Jane

It’s come to my attention (via Ain’t It Cool News) that BBC-1 in the U.K. is now running The Sarah Jane Adventures, a Doctor Who spin-off series starring Elisabeth Sladen. For the uninitiated, Sarah Jane Smith (Sladen) was a long-running companion of the Doctor’s for four seasons back in the mid-1970s, serving alongside both Jon Pertwee (Doc #3) and Tom Baker (Doc #4). She was also the first companion I ever saw and, in my humble opinion, the most memorable and certainly most adorable. When she left the series in 1976, I was devastated.

Last year, Sladen reprised her role with David Tennant, the tenth and current Doctor, in a charming episode of Doctor Who titled “School Reunion,” about which I wrote a glowing tribute here. And even though I know this new Sarah Jane spin-off is aimed at a younger audience than the original, I’m dying to watch it, and I anticipate seeing it eventually on either SciFi Channel or BBC America. And here’s another thing: even more than thirty years later, Elisabeth Sladen is still achingly adorable.

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My favorite movie crime thrillers

The “nameless ones” at Moviefone have offered their list of the 25 best crime thrillers of all time. I can’t argue with most of the entries, but I’d debate their positions on the list. Placing Silence of the Lambs, good as it is, at the very top, above Double Indemnity (#12), Chinatown (#10), The Third Man (#5), and even French Connection (#3), doesn’t sit well with me. Films like Rififi, The Maltese Falcon, Le Samourai, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Pulp Fiction, and Point Blank are missing entirely, displaced by less deserving movies like Seven (#7) and L.A. Confidential (#11). And I don’t think some of the films belong in the “crime thriller”category at all. The original Manchurian Candidate (#8), for example, is more political thriller than crime thriller, and North by Northwest (#4) is likewise more farcical spy romp than crime thriller. And while crime does occur in Hitchcock’s great Vertigo (#15), I think it’s more psychological drama than thriller. But hey, that’s me.

Anyway, Moviefone’s top ten is, in ascending order, Chinatown, Fargo, The Manchurian Candidate, Seven, The Usual Suspects, The Third Man, North by Northwest, The French Connection, Rear Window, and Silence of the Lambs. Here’s my list of the ten best crime thrillers of all time (in descending order and subject to change at my whim):

1. Chinatown
2. The Third Man
3. Pulp Fiction

4. Fargo
5. Bob Le Flambeur
6. M
7. The Usual Suspects
8. Touch of Evil
9. Diabolique
10. The Big Sleep


Drawing inspiration from Murray

We of the Agorist Action Alliance and the Alliance of the Libertarian Left today work to draw frustrated and disenfranchised freedom activists from “left” and “right” together into a vital anti-state, anti-war, libertarian Leftist movement. And granted, the task seems overwhelming. But back in 1971, after three decades of political “homelessness” and being stonewalled in his efforts to unite libertarian strains from both Old Right and New Left, eternal optimist Murray Rothbard still maintained his dream of building such a coalition. Listen to this rallying cry, the closing paragraphs from The Betrayal of the American Right.

“And so we now face an America ruled alternately by scarcely differentiated conservative and liberals wings of the same state-corporatist system. Within the ranks of liberalism there is a growing number of disaffected people who are increasingly facing the fact that their own credo, liberalism, has been in power for forty years, and what has it wrought? Executive dictation, unending war in Vietnam, imperialism abroad and militarism and conscription at home, intimate partnership between Big Business and Leviathan Government. An increasing number of liberals are facing this critical failure and are recognizing that liberalism itself is to blame. They are beginning to see that Lyndon Johnson was absolutely correct in habitually referring to Franklin Roosevelt as his ‘Big Daddy.’ The paternity is clear, and the whole crew stands or falls together.

“Where, then, can disaffected liberals turn? Not to the current Right, which offers them only more of the same, spiced with a more jingoistic and theocratic flavor. Not to the New Left, which destroyed itself in despair and random violence. Libertarianism, to many liberals, offers itself as the place to turn.

“And so libertarianism itself grows apace, fueled by split-offs from conservatism and liberalism alike. Just as conservatives and liberals have effectively blended into a consensus to uphold the Establishment, so what America needs now — and can have — is a counter-coalition in opposition to the Welfare-Warfare State. A coalition that would favor the short-term libertarian goals of militant opposition to the Vietnam War and the Cold War generally, and to conscription, the military-industrial complex, and the high taxes and accelerated inflation that the state has needed to finance these statist measures. It would be a coalition to advance the cause of both civil liberty and economic freedom from government dictation. It would be, in many ways, a renaissance of a coalition between the best of the Old Right and the old New Left, a return to the glorious days when elements of Left and Right stood shoulder to shoulder to oppose the conquest of the Philippines and America’s entry into World Wars I and II. Here would be a coalition that could appeal to all groups throughout America, to the middle class, workers, students, liberals, and conservatives alike. But Middle America, for the sake of gaining freedom from high taxes, inflation, and monopoly, would have to accept the idea of personal liberty and a loss of national face abroad. And liberals and leftists, for the sake of dismantling the war machine and the American Empire, would have to give up the cherished Old Left-liberal dream of high taxes and Federal expenditures for every goody on the face of the earth. The difficulties are great, but the signs are excellent that such an anti-Establishment and antistatist coalition can and might come into being. Big government and corporate liberalism are showing themselves to be increasingly incapable of coping with the problems that they have brought into being. And so objective reality is on our side.

“But more than that: the passion for justice and moral principle that is infusing more and more people can only move them in the same direction; morality and practical utility are fusing ever more clearly to greater numbers of people in one great call: for the liberty of people, of individuals and voluntary groups, to work out their own destiny, to take control over their own lives. We have it in our power to reclaim the American Dream.”

You can read this 36-year-old passage and be inspired by it, heartened by the fact that Rothbard never surrendered his vision. Or you can bewail three decades of experimentation and (so far) failure and suggest that our current efforts are a tremendous waste of time.

I choose to be inspired by Rothbard’s spirit and stay the course.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

A distinctly 21st century problem

The second season of Heroes, one of my favorite things on TV, begins tonight. This event really snuck up on me. In fact, I didn’t realize how close it was until last week, and then it dawned on me that watching these first few episodes of the show may be very difficult here at Casa Conger. For one thing, Deb and I have a standing out-of-the-house commitment every Monday night, so Heroes is one of those series that we must record for later viewing. Second, we are right in the middle of a house remodel, and at this very moment, we’re in that stage where digital cable, new TV, DVR, etc. are all in transition, being shut off, shuffled, and then turned on again. From one minute to the next, for the coming month, we won’t know whether we have TV access in this house at all. Tonight, we’re covered. But through October? I suppose we must rely on the kindness of friends.

What the hell did we do before we could record our television programs? Alas, I can't remember back that far.

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Was the launch of Bill Buckley’s National Review in the mid-1950s a CIA operation? I first heard Joseph Sobran imply this in 1993 at a Rothbard-Rockwell Report conference in San Mateo, California. I thought the idea was kinda paranoid and kooky at the time. But here’s Murray Rothbard himself suggesting the same thing in The Betrayal of the American Right, written 30 years ago:

“In the light of hindsight, we should now ask whether or not a major objective of National Review from its inception was to transform the right wing from an isolationist to global warmongering anti-Communist movement; and, particularly, whether or not the entire effort was in essence a CIA operation. We now know that Bill Buckley, for the two years prior to establishing National Review, was admittedly a CIA agent in Mexico City, and that the sinister E. Howard Hunt was his control. His sister Priscilla, who became managing editor of National Review, was also in the CIA, and other editors James Burnham and Willmoore Kendall had at least been recipients of CIA largesse in the anti-Communist Congress for Cultural Freedom. In addition, Burnham has been identified by two reliable sources as a consultant for the CIA in the years after World War II. Moreover, Gary Wills relates in his memoirs of the conservative movement that Frank Meyer, to whom he was close at the time, was convinced that the magazine was a CIA operation. With his Leninist-trained nose for intrigue, Meyer must be considered an important witness.

“Furthermore, it was a standard practice in the CIA, at least in those early years, that no one ever resigned from the CIA. A friend of mine who joined the Agency in the early 1950s told me that if, before the age of retirement, he was mentioned as having left the CIA for another job, that I was to disregard it, since it would only be a cover for continuing Agency work. On that testimony, the case for NR being a CIA operation becomes even stronger. Also suggestive is the fact that a character even more sinister than E. Howard Hunt, William J. Casey, appears at key moments of the establishment of the New over the Old Right. It was Casey who, as attorney, presided over the incorporation of National Review and had arranged the details of the ouster of Felix Morley from Human Events.”

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Sunday, September 23, 2007


From Beyond was Stuart Gordon’s quick follow-up to his groundbreaking 1985 horror-comedy classic Re-Animator. Like its predecessor, it was a loose adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft, just not quite as good. But From Beyond still earned cult status because (1) it was unique, (2) it contained some of the twisted Re-Animator humor loved by so many, (3) it was better than most of the horror dreck out there at the time, and (4) an unrated director’s cut was long hinted at. Plus, absolutely no version, rated or unrated, was available on DVD. That is, until this past week.

Last Tuesday, the unrated From Beyond, featuring Re-Animator stars Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton, slithered from the otherworldly ooze of the Old Ones and onto DVD shelves. And for folks like me who have a real fondness for Lovecraft, Gordon, Combs, and Crampton, this event is downright earth-shattering. Besides a beautiful transfer of the movie itself, the disc offers a short interview with Gordon about this notorious director’s cut, a featurette about the search for “lost footage,” storyboard-to-film comparisons, and a full-length film commentary with Gordon, Combs, Crampton, and producer Brian Yuzna. I have been having a great deal of fun with this DVD. But…

A VERY big warning: From Beyond is nasty stuff. It’s creepy. It’s slimey. It’s gooey. It’s gory. And it’s sexual — hoo boy, is it sexual, but not (of course) in a good way. So here’s what I suggest: even if you really love, love, love good horror movies, if you’ve never before seen From Beyond, don’t run out and buy a copy because “Conger says it rocks.” It does. But rent it first. Take it for a spin around the block. Then make your decision about purchasing a copy for your DVD library. That’s my recommendation.

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Sunday morning funnies

Thanks to pal BK for sharing this one.


Saturday, September 22, 2007

Heavenly bodies

Heaven is watching the gorgeous Milla Jovovich and stunning Ali Larter interview each other to promote their new film, Resident Evil 3: Extinction. They talk about superheroes, action movies, pregnancy, the Heroes TV series, and a lot more. Catch it here.

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Living in the spirit of anarchy

Someone accused me the other day of being an “armchair anarchist.” And I guess I am. I suppose most of us who call ourselves anarchists are. We rant. We rave. We blog. Then we open a Guinness and watch the tube. But I think being an anarchist means less doing something than it means avoidance of certain actions.

I’m reminded of Michael Ziesing, who edited a journal called Instead of a Magazine about 20 years ago. He used to talk about “anarchy in the first person.” By that he meant living in the spirit of anarchy. In his essay “Personal Anarchy,” Ziesing wrote:

“The point [of anarchy] is to live our lives as a movement toward freedom, away from coercion and as a process involving openness — i.e., choice. If we operate by that principle, we are living in the spirit of anarchy. Whenever we try through coercion, threat, or violence to force people to do things our way we are opposing the spirit of anarchy. Everything in opposition to the spirit of anarchy is anti-freedom. Everything!

Whenever we move into another long campaign period, I’m besieged by libertarian friends who urge me to participate in the electoral process. That’s happening right now with this Ron Paul movement. But electoral politics legitimizes and empowers government. And when you empower government, I believe you’re fighting against the spirit of anarchy.

So, for the umpteenth electoral season, I will:

(1) Refuse to vote.

(2) Refuse to sign any goddamn petitions demanding this, that, or the other from government.

Those are just two non-actions I take persistently in living the spirit of anarchy.

Now I’m off to the ’fridge for a Guinness.

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Superman is dead; long live Superman!

I reported on Superman: Doomsday shortly after I saw its “world premiere” at Comic-Con this past summer. The DC Comics direct-to-DVD animated PG-13 feature was finally released on Tuesday, and I picked up a copy. I won’t repeat all of what I said in August, but I will say that on second viewing, the movie is even better than I remembered. And if you’re at all a Superman fan, particularly if you recall DC’s long-running “Death of Superman” series from the early 1990s, you should enjoy this DVD. The full-length commentary by producer Bruce Timm, writer Duane Capizzi, and voice director Andrea Romano is a lot of fun. But what makes this DVD really special is the inclusion of the 45-minute documentary Requiem and Rebirth: Superman Lives! This is a wonderful recap of DC’s decision more than a decade or so ago to “kill” Superman, filled with great interviews with the DC editors, writers, and artists.

The documentary includes one very startling (to me) revelation, and I’m gonna spoil it for you right now. The entire death and rebirth storyline, which ran about two years, was actually created as “filler.” DC had planned a wedding for Supes and Lois, a storyline that would have lasted months, maybe a year. Then ABC announced its Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman TV series, starring Teri Hatcher and Dean Cain. The DC staff was told they couldn’t schedule a wedding until after Lois and Clark got hitched on TV, at least two or three seasons down the road. An already-plotted Superman storyline had to be pushed off. What to fill with? “Let’s kill him!” suggested one staffer. This is a terrific little documentary.

And Superman: Doomsday is a great DVD.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

A (very) minor quibble

I’m enjoying Murray Rothbard’s The Betrayal of the American Right so much that I’m gently sipping it, just a chapter or two a day. It’s really an extraordinary history lesson, certainly for libertarians and probably for anyone else who feels a disconnect with what generally passes for “Right” or “Left” these days.

I do quibble with the book’s title. Betrayal is part memoir, and with that in mind, the title works. After all, Rothbard first dabbled with politics in the 1940s, and his right-wing Republican friends were then largely antistate, antiwar, and isolationist; when conservatives showed their true colors and turned tail in the ’50s, he understandably felt betrayed. But the book is broader than memoir. It details the longer and bigger story of “homeless” laissez-faire liberals and individualist anarchists, expelled first from their birthplace on the Left and smeared by double-crossing socialists and progressives, then likewise disenfranchised and vilified by the treacherous Right. It’s a chronicle of shifting alliances, of rebuilding, and of launching new political movements. The title The Betrayal of the American Right is too limiting. It doesn’t even begin to hint at the full story or the book’s scope.

Regardless, Betrayal is what my pals in PR used to call “boffo.” Must reading.

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Meat bad, veggies good

Alicia Silverstone offers a compelling case for vegetarianism.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Traveling further along freedom's path

Claire Wolfe is moving on, and I’ll miss her. Wolfesblog is gone. The Claire’s Files Forum is gone. Writes Claire:

“After a whole lifetime of being ‘political,’ I’m just not anymore — as I think has been apparent for quite a while.

“I’ve always stressed that freedom begins with mindset. Now I see a deeper aspect of mindset: freedom is spiritual. I may write about that. In some other forum. Maybe even under some other name. But it’s kinda hard to blog newsy, sound-bitey little updates on spirituality — even if anybody cared (which I believe few would). So Wolfesblog goes.

“I cheer the increasing number of bold freedom-seekers, each fighting for freedom in their own unique, unpredictable ways. … We’re all at our own places, all have our own things to do, all have our own styles, whether Mole, Ghost, or Agitator. …

“I’m not ‘disappearing.’ Just traveling further along my path.”

Bye-bye, Claire. Love ya. Keep shiny.

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

How Left individualists turned Right

The brand spankin’ new Murray Rothbard book, The Betrayal of the American Right, is so far (since I’m still reading it) delivering what I anticipated — a first-rate history not of the conservative right-wing but of the 20th century journey taken by individualist laissez-faire liberals on the road to modern libertarianism. And I think the book is vital reading for radical libertarians who still struggle with the idea of making their home on the Left.

Most of us familiar with Rothbard’s seminal essay “Left and Right: The Prospects for Liberty” understand how laissez-fairists dominated the oppositional Left against the Old Regime in the late 18th century, then began sharing that end of the spectrum, sometimes uncomfortably, with socialists and “progressives” by the late 1800s. That alliance was strengthened, Rothbard explains, during World War I in resistance to the despotic evils of the Wilson camp:

“During the 1920s, then, the emerging individualists and libertarians — the Menckens, the Nocks, the Villards, and their followers — were generally considered Men of the Left; like the Left generally, they bitterly opposed the emergence of Big Government in twentieth-century America, a government allied with Big Business in a network of special privilege, a government dictating the personal drinking habits of the citizenry and repressing civil liberties, a government that had enlisted as a junior partner to British imperialism to push around nations across the globe. The individualists were opposed to this burgeoning of State monopoly, opposed to imperialism and militarism and foreign wars, opposed to the Western-imposed Versailles Treaty and League of Nations, and they were generally allied with socialists and progressives in this opposition.”

What had not been thoroughly documented until now, though, was the ol’ switcheroo of the 1930s, when radical individualists found themselves expelled suddenly from the Left and pushed into alliance with the conservative right-wing. Rothbard places this unfortunate event at the feet of FDR’s New Deal. Libertarians, he explains, recognized the New Deal as “the imposition of a fascistic government upon the economy and society,” with Big Business playing a major role in running the show. But much to their astonishment, these laissez-faire radicals discovered that “their former, and supposedly knowledgeable, allies, the socialists and progressives, instead of joining in with this insight, had rushed to embrace and even deify the New Deal, and to form its vanguard of intellectual apologists.” Rothbard continues:

“The individualists and laissez-faire liberals were stunned and embittered, not just by the mass desertion of their former allies, but also by the abuse these allies now heaped upon them as ‘reactionaries,’ ‘fascists,’ and ‘Neanderthals.’ For decades Men of the Left, the individualists, without changing their position or perspectives one iota, now found themselves bitterly attacked by their erstwhile allies as benighted ‘extreme right-wingers.’ …

“Isolated and abused, treated by the New Dispensation as Men of the Right, the individualists had no alternative but to become, in effect, right-wingers, and to ally themselves with the conservatives, monopolists, Hooverites, etc., whom they had previously despised.”

I don’t really buy into the idea that Mencken, Nock, and the others had no alternative but “to ally themselves with the conservatives, monopolists, Hooverites, etc.” Granted, going their own way, standing firm in their laissez-faire Leftism, and participating in a multi-front attack on the New Deal may have seemed at the time less effective politically than joining a broader coalition. But the fact is, even that broad coalition, philosophically weak as it was, couldn’t stop the FDR steamroller. And what's worse, the individualists essentially surrendered the left-wing to corporate collectivists for 70 years.

It’s now our job as radical Rothbardians to reclaim our position on that left wing of the political spectrum, and even lead it.

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

Magic Kingdom: beware of dog

Sorry, I just can't help myself

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Friday, September 14, 2007

News Report: Freedom Tower

Al Qaeda Also Fed Up With Ground Zero Construction Delays

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Libertarianism: why we're Left

Sheldon Richman has posted his essay "Libertarianism: Left or Right?" at the Future of Freedom Foundation website. As anyone familiar with Sheldon can guess, he places libertarianism squarely on the Left — right where it belongs, historically, philosophically, and strategically.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Is "Shoot 'Em Up" anti-gun?

"dirty harry" over at Libertas, the neoconservative Hollywood gadfly site, is bitching about the pro gun-control message of the movie Shoot 'Em Up, which I gave a positive review to here on Sunday. Hmm. From a Left Libertarian perspective, "harry" seems to miss a few important points. First, the anti-gun senator in the film is a goddamn baby-marrow harvester, slaughtering infants and their mothers to keep himself alive. Not a particularly sterling character and certainly not a "good guy." And second, the big gun manufacturer in the film is in cahoots with government bureaucrats to crush his opposition and competition.

If you're an action geek, see the movie. I doubt your libertarian sensibilities will be terribly rattled.

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New Rothbard book now shipping

I just received word from the Mises Institute that my copy of The Betrayal of the American Right has shipped. I’ve been chompin’ at the bit for this book since last March, when I first heard its publication was scheduled for “sometime this year.” Betrayal is a previously unpublished 1970s era manuscript by the late Murray Rothbard, and Thomas E. Woods, Jr., who wrote the book’s introduction, says it’s the closest thing to a Rothbard memoir we’ll ever see. Writes Woods: “It is not just a history of the Old Right, or of the anti-interventionist tradition in America. It is the story — at least in part — of Rothbard’s own political and intellectual development: the books he read, the people he met, the friends he made, the organizations he joined, and so much more.” And for us radical Rothbardians (aka Libertarian Leftists), there is also this, from the Mises Institute press release:

“How many [historians] know that the left and right changed place from the late 50s through the 1960s? Very few indeed. What Rothbard shows is that the cause of peace is our heritage, and that free markets has been united with the antiwar cause from the founding fathers through the Old Right and as late as the 1950s.

“There is so much in this book to appreciate but especially valuable are his comments on the left in the 1960s. There might have seemed to be some hope for some type of collaboration. They were against the war and for civil liberties at a time when the right was becoming increasingly imperialist and warmongering. Rothbard explains his attempt to educate the left on economics. Alas, there was no hope. He had to go it alone and forge a completely new movement called libertarianism.”

When it arrives in a few days, The Betrayal of the American Right goes right to the top of my “to read” stack.

Update: I see that the Mises Institute already has a free PDF download of Betrayal available. God bless those glorious Austrian bastards! (Buy the hardcover edition anyway. The Mises folks really deserve our support.)

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Bringing libertarianism to Sherlockians

Our local Sherlock Holmes society, the Blind German Mechanics, meets tonight to discuss “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton.” This story, first published in 1904, details Holmes’ struggle with a notorious blackmailer, “the worst man in London.” I plan to share Walter Block’s article “The Blackmailer as Hero” (Libertarian Forum, December 1972) with my fellow Sherlockians, particularly this passage:

“The only difference between a gossip and blabbermouth and the blackmailer is that the blackmailer will refrain from speaking — for a price. In a sense, the gossip or the blabbermouth is much worse than the blackmailer, for the blackmailer at least gives you a chance to shut him up. The blabbermouth and gossip just up and spill the beans. A person with a secret he wants kept will be much better off if a blackmailer rather than a gossip or blabbermouth gets hold of it. … It is indeed difficult, then, to account for the vilification suffered by the blackmailer, at least compared to the gossip who is usually dismissed with merely slight contempt.”

Should be an interesting evening.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Sy Leon, R.I.P.

One of my libertarian bibles when I first discovered this crazy movement back in the very early 1970s was Sy Leon’s None of the Above. In fact, it was my guidebook to becoming an unrepentant nonvoter. Leon was what you’d call a Big Name in the movement back then. In the ’60s, he taught alongside Butler Shaffer, Roy Childs, and James Martin at Robert LeFevre’s Rampart College in Colorado; he even ran the school after it moved to southern California. He founded the League of Non-Voters. He was one of the libertarian movement’s heavy-hitters, one of its biggest promoters.

Sy Leon died without any movement fanfare this past spring. My friend Butler Shaffer offers a tribute to him this morning, which is worth reading for both its insight and its historical perspective.

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Just shut up and eat your veggies

I lived in the Los Angeles area during the notorious “Rodney King riots” in 1992. Not pretty. But what I recall most from that time is the response from the L.A. City Council when plans were being made for the rebuilding of South Central. As I remember, it was proposed that two specific types of business not be allowed to rebuild: liquor stores and auto garages. Both, the Council declared, fostered violent behavior, and there were just too many of them in predominantly black South Central. “The market be damned. Mommy, sitting in her office in City Hall, knows what’s good for you.”

So here we go again.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the L.A. City Council now thinks South L.A.’s 700,000 residents are too fat. The Times cites a county Department of Health study that says “thirty percent of adults in South L.A. are obese, compared with 20.9% in the county overall… For children, the obesity rate was 29% in South L.A., compared with 23.3% in the country.”

So this fall, the City Council will consider an up to two-year moratorium on new fast-food restaurants in South L.A. Says Councilwoman Jan Perry, who proposed the ordinance in June, and whose district includes portions of South L.A.: “The people don’t want [fast-food restaurants], but when they don’t have any other options, they may gravitate to what’s there.”

Oh, those poor victims in South L.A., trapped in their cage of unhealthy eateries, too stupid to resist fast-food and pursue healthier eating habits! Sure, they like to hang out at KFC and Popeye’s. But that doesn’t matter. Let’s not give ’em what they want; let’s force a lifestyle on them that we wiser bureaucrats prefer.

To summarize Councilwoman Perry’s message: “Fuck you, South L.A.

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What does "freedom" mean?

Notice, as we rocket into another tiresome political campaign season, that even more than usual, the crucial word freedom is fiercely massaged, corrupted, despoiled, and degraded by the parasitic ruling class of bureaucrats, politicos, subsidized businessmen, privileged labor leaders, militarists, state historians, power-worshiping "intellectuals," and their media lapdogs. Each tells us we can be made “free” only by slavish devotion to their particular self-serving agenda.

More than ever, we radical libertarians must recapture our language. We must keep clear what we mean by “freedom” and not surrender to statist, watered-down redefinitions.

This brief essay by El Ray first appeared in the May 1964 issue of Liberal Innovator. It was later republished in a collection of Rayo’s writings, Vonu: The Search for Personal Freedom, edited by Jon Fisher and published by Loompanics Unlimited in 1983.

Is “freedom” a useful concept? Can a social environment be meaningfully described in terms of “freedom”?

Spokesmen for the political-economic status quo assert that man is, in large measure, a “slave” of his environment and his personal limitations and thus is never really free. This implies that acts or threats of violence inflicted on one man by other men are no more oppressive than are the misfortunes and restrictions inflicted on man by his physical environment; that, for example, a state edict to pay taxes or be imprisoned is not fundamentally different from the biological need to obtain food or starve.

If this view were correct, then freedom would be a sociological myth and all arguments for freedom would be empty phrases. A meaningful concept of freedom can not include immunity from natural phenomena. A man is obviously never “free” from the principles of gravity nor “free” from the necessity of sustaining his own life (so long as he chooses to live).

What is the significant difference between constraints imposed on a man by other human beings and the requirements of physical reality?

Man’s physical environment is mechanistic; it is not volitional. Man’s ability to function within his environment is limited only by his intelligence and knowledge and by intrinsic physical properties of the environment. Man may choose to increase his knowledge and devise ingenious ways to overcome apparent environmental constraints. And the environment continues to function in a potentially predictable manner, devoid of conscious intent. Man possesses and may use intelligence to alter his environment but his physical environment has no intelligent purpose to oppose man.

In contrast, constraints imposed on a man by other men can be the result of conscious, calculated, volitional intent. Purposeful attempts by a victim of force to regain his freedom can be opposed and negated by the purposeful counteractions of the coercers. Men bent on the forceful imposition of their demands can be a vastly more serious threat, a vastly more severe restriction on human action than are the non-reasoning forces of nature.

For this reason “freedom,” defined as the absence of physical force initiated by intelligent beings, is a meaningful concept. “Freedom” is a vital component of human effectiveness and fulfillment.

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Sunday, September 09, 2007

Movie review: SHOOT 'EM UP

It’s been a kinda sucky weekend. Not horrible. Just kinda sucky. I spent most of yesterday trying to regain a sense of normalcy with my PC, once sick but now well. A good 40 minutes were spent watching Windows try unsuccessfully to “find” my HP printer, then it turned out the problem was the frickin’ USB cable had shaken loose. Plus I waited all day for a cabinet guy to deliver some stuff for the house remodel — “I’ll be there at noon, no, I’ll be there by two, ulp, gimme another hour” — and the sumbitch never did show up. No call. No nuttin’. And he didn’t return my calls. Sheesh.

So here’s the weekend’s highlight: Shoot ’Em Up.

My pal Steve and I have been waiting for this action-packed monster since July at Comic-Con, when we heard writer-director Michael Davis and star Clive Owen talk about it and show lengthy clips from it. When I say “waiting,” I mean twitching, salivating, night-sweat waiting.

So Friday night, Steve and I dragged our wives to Shoot ’Em Up. He and I had an absolutely terrific time. The movie was everything we’d hoped for — and more. We loved it. The ladies, despite their fondness for Clive Owen, not so much.

But Shoot ’Em Up wasn’t created for them. It was made for gross, beer-guzzlin’ action freaks like Steve and me. And on that level, it works big time. This may be the greatest gunplay picture ever made. All the stunts — all of them — are among the cleverest I’ve ever seen in a movie. Every moment of this film is over the top. (Clive’s hidden in a stall in a men’s room with a crying baby, bad guys ready to bust in, and he drops his gun in the toilet. What to do? Within seconds, he completely disassembles the piece, cleans it, reassembles it, dries off his ammo, and reloads, all on a changing table. And all in the nick of time, of course.) I have no idea what the body count is in this movie. It’s high.

Clive Owen is fantastic, a perfect fit in a film of this kind. Paul Giamatti seems to have the time of his life playing the vile hitman. And Monica Belucci is so good that she brings a real touch of class to her role as the lactating prostitute from the fetish brothel. (Don’t ask. Just see the damn movie.)

So the weekend hasn’t been a total loss. Sure, there’s been frustration and disappointment. But there’s also been Shoot ’Em Up. And a greater appreciation for carrots. (Again, just see the movie.)

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Saturday, September 08, 2007

A return, of sorts...

After blogging every day for maybe ten consecutive days — a real record for me — I’ve been absent for the past four. But for a very good reason.

My entire system crashed Tuesday morning. And I lost everything.

Lemme repeat: I lost everything. Every. God. Damn. Thing.

Every program. Every file. All gone. All bye-bye.

What caused it? Homeland Security? Bill Gates? Internet munchkins?

Who knows? But I am back. Tentatively. I am starting from scratch. For some reason, my PC refuses to “find” my printer, which is a nuisance. There are still plenty of things to sort out. But I’m back and blogging — and will be doing so on a regular basis again shortly.

Wish me luck.

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Monday, September 03, 2007

Surmounting barriers to freedom (3)

Here’s the conclusion of El Ray’s “Surmounting Barriers to Freedom,” from the August 1969 issue of Innovator.

Change your interrelations, not your values. Avoid psychotherapy, group therapy, dianetics, and the other kinds of “treatment” which focus on YOUR neuroses, seeking to change your drives and attitudes — to “adjust” YOU to “society.” Instead, “adjust” SOCIETY to you, by changing your pattern of interactions with it. While you may have hang-ups which reduce your effectiveness (most people do), these are predominantly secondary — the result of living in a very sick culture. Once you are free, most of your neuroses will go away. And you can better handle any which remain. By analogy: if you wake up in a house on fire, don’t stop to put salve on your burns; get out! The only hang-ups to concern yourself with immediately are any which keep you from becoming free.

Seek associates going your way. Cultivate long-term relations only with libertarians achieving compatible objectives. Cut your ties with tied people, be they long-time friends, relatives, husband, wife, or whoever. Some libertarians are held by a mistaken sense of contractual obligation. I consider a State marriage contract to be morally invalid on several grounds: it is entered under duress; its terms are not objective; a criminal organization is a third-party to it and abrogates to itself the resolution of any disputes. But even if a traditional marriage is considered valid, it doesn’t give someone moral license to hold you in servitude. Since you cannot properly care for a spouse and children within THAT society, obligation, if any, is not for you to remain with them, but for them to accompany you.

Emphasize the positive — enjoyment of freedom living, rather than survival of some future catastrophe. While coercive States always have been and continue to be prone to wars, depressions, plagues, witch-hunts, and other “emergencies,” the time, place, and circumstances are not so predictable that you can afford to wait until just before a disaster occurs. And there may not be a single apocalypse but, as in the Roman Empire, stagnation and decay lasting for centuries, punctuated by various calamities and partial recoveries. Someone who hopes to get out of that society just before a disaster will tend to spend much time keeping posted on “affairs of State,” which is psychologically destructive. He will be reacting to the statists instead of taking the initiative. Some have decided that “things aren’t bad enough yet” to opt out, but they are apt to find that if/when conditions get worse, their resources will be correspondingly less and freedom options within their means not so attractive. This is not to deny the value of “survival insurance” — preparation for some of the more likely dangers, but this should be in addition to, not in place of freedom now.

Look before you leap. Especially if you are new to the freedom scene, be sure you understand what you need freedom FROM before you commit yourself. Some young people — without benefit of experience, capital, or philosophy courses — have dropped out and STAYED OUT, building free lives. But many more drop out only to drip back in. Don’t react, for example, merely to the superficial ills of megapolis, such as smog and congestion, and invest much time and money in a conventional farm, only to discover later that you have less real liberty than ever. If your humanities studies have been limited to courses in State schools plus “left-wing” and “right-wing” political tracts, spend a few months broadening them. Read some books on libertarian philosophy, free-market economics, and revisionist history. With the last, include some horror stories on the American government’s treatment of Indians in the 19th century, incarceration of Japanese-Americans in the ’40s, incineration of innocent civilians in enemy-controlled cities during World War II and since, and forced repatriation of refugees from communist countries after World War II. When you no longer dislike just the draft, taxes, “welfare” programs, Vietnam War, anti-psychedelic laws or other specific depredations, but detest coercive government per se; when you realize that the American Empire and other major powers are utterly without redeeming social value, you are ready to become free.

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Sunday, September 02, 2007

A Labor Day weekend video

Pete Seeger also turned 87 this weekend. Happy birthday, you old commie!

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Surmounting barriers to freedom (2)

Here’s part two of El Ray’s “Surmounting Barriers to Freedom,” from the August 1969 issue of Innovator.

Think of yourself as a pioneer as you achieve freedom; you are. Synthesizing a new way of life is what any pioneer does. (Rarely does anyone truly settle new land; European migrants to America, for example, developed new lifestyles in an already-inhabited land.) As a pioneer, you must learn new approaches and skills — sometimes you must invent them. If you prefer the routine, self-liberation is not for you.

Honestly recognize your servile traits and treat these as bad habits to be broken. Don’t alibi. As Dr. George Boardman has said: “The most emphatic problem facing people who are trying to find the road to freedom, today, involves habits created by too many years of donothingness. Except for a few persons who have been in business for themselves, most of the people dissatisfied with the status quo have spent most of their time taking orders. The remarkable hesitancy displayed is only mildly disguised by jumping up and down, rather wildly, in one place, proclaiming, waving arms, arguing and generally wasting time.” For overcoming servilism, different techniques work for different individuals: writing personal “scenarios,” long meditations, solitary wilderness trips, or psychedelics may help.

Be confident, don’t overestimate difficulties. Many stories of wilderness and ocean, written for the titillation of armchair adventurers, exaggerate the dangers. In reality, almost any liberated lifestyle is safer than existence within the Grave Society. Of course, ignorance or carelessness can be fatal in the wilderness, but no more so than on a freeway. The biggest hazard for most people is not storms, wild animals, nor even the predators of the State, but, as mentioned before, their psychological dependence on others — their inability to direct their own lives — to motivate and entertain themselves.

To be continued.

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Saturday, September 01, 2007

Worldcon winners: Vinge and Stross

Word's in from Worldcon 2007 in Japan: libertarian favorite Vernor Vinge has won the Hugo for his novel Rainbows End. And the Libertarian Futurist Society has bestowed the Prometheus Award for best novel to Charles Stross for Glasshouse.

I've read neither of them so far, but will get right on it!

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Accept no substitutes

I will not be seeing Rob Zombie’s remake of the 1970s horror classic Halloween this weekend. I’m really hating these “new takes” on great old films. In the past few years, the worst of the bunch, off the top of my head, were Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes, the Coen brothers’ dreadful spin on the fantastic 1955 British comedy The Ladykillers, Sean Penn’s butchering of All the King’s Men and, very worst of all, Gus Van Sant’s needless shot-by-shot color re-do of Hitchcock’s Psycho, starring the comedic Vince Vaughn as Norman. Ack!

But Zombie’s new movie does give me an excuse to break out the John Carpenter masterpiece again. And I’m reminded of my thirty-year infatuation with P.J. Soles, who played a short-lived, sex-kitten babysitter in the original film. Whew.

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Surmounting barriers to freedom (1)

Here’s part one of "Surmounting Barriers to Freedom," another terrific article on self-liberation by the mysterious El Ray, from the August 1969 issue of Innovator. Many of Rayo’s suggestions for “opting out” may strike some modern libertarians as too fringe and too retreatist. But I think what’s most important here is attitude, and the truth in what he says about our shackles being as much psychological as political.

The continuation and growth of any authoritarian State depends far less on overt coercion than on the credulity, inertia, short-sightedness, and capacity for rationalization of its victims. Even many of those who criticize the State remain caged by their habits and continue to be bled. If you have been a libertarian for several years and still aren’t free, unless you reside in a maximum-security prison or are bed-ridden, your shackles are not political-economic so much as psychologic. How can you smash your chains? Here are some tips:

Liberate your home first, then work for vocational freedom, rather than trying for financial independence before opting out. You might, for example, move into a camper and squat away from the subpeople, while commuting weekly to your present employment. Since only a fraction of time is spent at work (about one-quarter for a single person; one-sixteenth for a family of four with one member employed), away-from-work living logically has priority. And a liberated home should be much less expensive, bringing financial independence that much closer. Also, with less vulnerability to the extorters, you can use tax-cutting tricks you would otherwise fear to employ. And coming-of-school-age children are removed from populated areas before the real-life bogeymen get them. Finally, actually living in freedom, you may discover alternatives to the eight-to-five regime which might never occur to you in suburbia.

Distinguish comforts and conveniences from status games. Some claim they enjoy the “comforts of civilization” too much to opt out. But almost all the free men of whom I have knowledge — land nomads, yachtsmen, and backwoodsmen — have shelter from the rain and cold, nutricious and tasty food, bathing facilities, comfortable bed, books and records, and leisure to enjoy these. Some chores may take more time; cooking with wood instead of gas, for example, but time saved on outside employment more than compensates. What a free man probably DOESN’T have is a house which would impress non-libertarian relatives.

Take pride in your ability to live free, not in your productiveness as a semi-slave. If your present occupation depends on the Servile State, avoid ego involvement. Instead, base your self-esteem on active interests which can accompany you wherever and however you go.

Judge success by your enjoyment of life as a whole, not by the money you earn. In the irrational-coercivist society, there is less and less correlation between income and happiness; there are “impoverished rich” as well as “affluent poor.” Many an “upper-middle-classer” not only spends a substantial part of his waking life at tasks he detests, but finds that most of his supposedly-high income (what is left after taxes) goes for ostentatious home, “nice” car, dress clothes and other prestige expenses needed for “getting ahead” in his occupation. He may envy not only the “poor” free man’s lifestyle but his camper, boat, or wilderness cabin as well; things many a “salary-slave” literally can’t afford. I’m not urging avoidance of money altogether; with a financial reserve or income more freedom life-ways are available. But money is only a useful tool, not an end in itself.

Estimate low on your money requirements. Most not-yet-liberated libertarians, extrapolating from present expenses, over-estimate liberated-living costs. The free man not only avoids status games and cuts down on marginal luxuries, but saves on necessities. Time and energy formerly expended earning money for Big Brother and to salve his work-induced neuroses can now be applied learning to live better and better on less and less. ...

Maximize your per-hour income, but not to the point of reducing your freedom. If you must “export” labor, sell at that price which minimizes TOTAL time spent in the Servile Society. If your lifestyle is nomadic or remote, seek temporary jobs rather than institutionalized employment. If you are presently a student or changing occupations, stay out of professions which involve years of “career building.” ...

To be continued.

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The last sounds of summer

I can tell it's Labor Day weekend, the last real weekend of summer. We live above the Oceano dunes, and since last night, all I've heard is the roar of dune buggies and ATVs. Gotta turn the TV up.

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Living without rules

The 18th verse of the Tao Te Ching, by Lao-tzu (Dr. Wayne Dyer’s new adaptation, from Change Your Thoughts – Change Your Life):

When the greatness of the Tao is present,
action arises from one’s own heart.
When the greatness of the Tao is absent,
action comes from the rules
of “kindness and justice.”

If you need rules to be kind and just,
if you act virtuous,
this is a sure sign that virtue is absent.
Thus we see the great hypocrisy.

When kinship falls into discord,
piety and rites of devotion arise.
When the country falls into chaos,
official loyalists will appear;
patriotism is born.

Wayne Dyer adds, “Learning that it is each individual's personal responsibility to live without governing will ultimately demonstrate that when you change your thoughts, you change your life.”

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