Monday, June 30, 2008

If the jackboot fits...

"I'd rather take my chances with criminals than with the police. For one thing, criminals usually want your property, not control over your life."

So begins a post by Wendy McElroy this morning. Terrific stuff.

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100 years ago today...

Thumbs up for Minear screenplay

Tim Minear’s unproduced 2005 screenplay based on The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, now available for free download, offers some good fun for fans of Heinlein’s Hugo-winning novel. Minear is very faithful to the book’s libertarian politics, and certainly to its spirit. Changes in the story’s structure and some obvious deviations in plot don’t bother me at all; they’re absolutely necessary in moving the novel from printed word to movie screen. What’s especially nice is that all our favorite characters are largely here, and even Heinlein’s controversial ideas about family units are explored. My only complaint is that the script relies too heavily on Manny’s narration, and with the exception of a few films noir from the 1940s, I’ve never been a fan of movie narration; in movies, show, don’t tell.

I’d like to see this script translated to the screen. Check it out.

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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Advice for the embarrassed nonvoter

Today Now!: How To Pretend You Give A Shit About The Election

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Vince Miller RIP


Your Saturday evening meditation

The Bible says that the love of money is the root of all evil. But what is the essential meaning of money? Money attracts because it gives us the means to command the labor and service and finally the lives of others — human or otherwise. Money is power. I would expand the Biblical aphorism, therefore, in this fashion: the root of all evil is the love of power.

And power attracts the worst and corrupts the best among men. It is no accident that police work, for example, appeals to those (if not only those) with the bully’s instinct. We know the type. Or put a captain’s bars on a perfectly ordinary, decent man, give him a measure of arbitrary power over others, and he tends to become — unless a man of unusual character — a martinet, another petty despot. Power corrupts, and as Lord Acton pointed out, absolute power corrupts absolutely. The problem of democracy is the problem of power — how to keep power decentralized, equally distributed, fairly shared. Anarchism means maximum democracy: the maximum possible dispersal of political power, economic power, and force — military power. An anarchist society consists of a voluntary association of self-reliant, self-supporting, autonomous communities. The anarchist community would consist (as it did in preagricultural and preindustrial times) of a voluntary association of free and independent families, self-reliant and self-supporting but bound by kinship ties and a tradition of mutual aid.

“Theory of Anarchy,” from One Life at a Time, Please
by Edward Abbey
(Henry Holt and Company, 1988)

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Download Minear's MISTRESS script

I'd heard some time ago that Tim Minear, executive producer, writer, and director of TV's Firefly, was working on a script for a movie adaptation of Heinlein's great libertarian novel The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Dunno if it'll ever get made, but the script is now available as a PDF for free download. I'm gonna gobble this thing up, and I'll report back in a few days.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Weather update

Well, the heat wave actually began breaking late Saturday afternoon, when temperatures around here plunged from 100 to 77 degrees in about two hours. The marine layer made an appearance Sunday morning, and now we're back to our normal June weather on the central coast. Right now, at 2:22 p.m., it's in the mid-70s outside, and all is right again with the world.



So kill me, I like The Incredible Hulk, which I finally got around to seeing yesterday. This is the Hulk movie they should’ve made five years ago instead of that dull film about daddy issues starring Eric Bana. I’ll admit, this new release isn’t the blockbuster Iron Man is, but it is entertaining and crammed with good moments and very good performances. The CGI is good, really at its best in the quiet Hulk scenes (and there are a couple). But most important, unlike its 2003 predecessor, The Incredible Hulk has a PLOT. Stuff happens, a lotta stuff happens, and when you get to the end of the film, you really wanna know what happens next, which is good, because word has it that Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America are destined for an Avengers movie down the road. And that might be a great thing.

Anyway, if you liked Iron Man and are curious just where Marvel Studios is heading with their movies, check out The Incredible Hulk. It makes for a fun afternoon. And hey, the bad guys are, of course, the military and the government it serves. You gotta love that.

Final note: One disappointment for me was that there were signs of SHIELD in the movie but nary a glimpse of Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. Ah well…

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Summer gas prices


Saturday, June 21, 2008

An inconvenient heat

Where I live on California’s central coast is where people usually go to get away from the heat. We have a very moderate climate, and the temps year-round generally stay within a range of 55-75 degrees. Sure, there are days at my house when the temperature outside might hit the mid-80s, but I can count those days on one hand each year. Our house isn’t air-conditioned; it’s never had to be.

Well, that heat wave on the west coast you’ve been hearing about has struck us with a vengeance. This is Day Four of our “hell on earth.” Temperatures have reached 100 degrees in our little neck o’ the woods, and things don’t even begin to cool off until late into the night. “But at least it’s a dry heat,” people tell me. “Shut the hell up,” I tell them. There are only so many layers of clothing I can peel off. Yes, friends, it gets ugly. Think I'll skip the car show this weekend.

Weather’s supposed to break starting tomorrow and become more “seasonal,” which is about 70 degrees for us this time of year. We’ll see.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Libertarian Leftist alert

Shawn Wilbur is calling out to mutualists, agorists, and others who might be interested in building an Alliance of the Libertarian Left in the Pacific Northwest. If you live in Portland, Seattle, Eugene, etc., send Shawn an e-mail at

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Your Thursday dose of political poetry

What you have heard is true. I was in his house. His wife carried a tray of coffee and sugar. His daughter filed her nails, his son went out for the night. There were daily papers, pet dogs, a pistol on the cushion beside him. The moon swung bare on its black cord over the house. On the television was a cop show. It was in English. Broken bottles were embedded in the walls around the house to scoop the kneecaps from a man's legs or cut his hands to lace. On the windows there were gratings like those in liquor stores. We had dinner, rack of lamb, good wine, a gold bell was on the table for calling the maid. The maid brought green mangoes, salt, a type of bread. I was asked how I enjoyed the country. There was a brief commercial in Spanish. His wife took everything away. There was some talk of how difficult it had become to govern. The parrot said hello on the terrace. The colonel told it to shut up, and pushed himself from the table. My friend said to me with his eyes: say nothing. The colonel returned with a sack used to bring groceries home. He spilled many human ears on the table. They were like dried peach halves. There is no other way to say this. He took one of them in his hands, shook it in our faces, dropped it into a water glass. It came alive there. I am tired of fooling around he said. As for the rights of anyone, tell your people they can go fuck themselves. He swept the ears to the floor with his arm and held the last of his wine in the air. Something for your poetry, no? he said. Some of the ears on the floor caught this scrap of his voice. Some of the ears on the floor were pressed to the ground.

“The Colonel,” from The Country Between Us
by Carolyn Forché
(HarperCollins, 1987)

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Mainstream media's terminal state

Tim Russert always seemed like a really nice guy to me. The sorta fella I could sit down and drink a Guinness with. And I was very sorry to hear about his death last Friday, particularly since he was just a few years my senior. But I have to agree with my dear friend Butler Shaffer here:

“As I write these words, we are into the third day of a seemingly endless period of mourning for Tim Russert. While he seemed to be a likeable fellow — in a conventional sort of way — and I can sympathize with his family, friends, and colleagues over his loss, there is something telling about the state of journalism in this country in the way his death is being transformed into a national tragedy. Here in Hollywood, the demise of even the most prominent of the prominent stars does not merit the media’s nonstop observance such as we are witnessing not only from Mr. Russert’s network, but from others as well. …

“There may be a metaphorical message in the untimely death of television news’ most visible personage. Like those who gather to celebrate the life and death of a friend, perhaps the mainstream media is using the memory of Tim Russert to celebrate its own life, which seems now to be in a terminal state.”

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Don't yield! Back SHIELD!

…or Wally frolics among the pages of his favorite statist, Cold War comic book series.

It’s been a slow week. We had a new roof put on the house last week. We’ll be launching into phase three of our “home revitalization” in the next few days — tearing up the lawn, replanting with drought-resistant plants, some flagstone work for the patio. In the meantime, though, a slow week.

So when I saw a package sitting on the front porch yesterday, and it turned out to be my eagerly anticipated copy of Marvel Masterworks: Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD Vol. 1, things started to perk up. I dived right into the book, revisiting old comic book ground I hadn’t traipsed through in more than 40 years.

This very handsome book includes all the Strange Tales pre-hardcore Jim Steranko stuff. Steranko did draw over Jack Kirby’s layouts for the last three stories in this volume, but he didn’t begin to blossom as artist and writer until just after the last story presented here. So this hardcover is made up of 20 short SHIELD stories from Strange Tales #135-153 and Tales of Suspense #78 (technically, a Captain America tale), plus a pre-SHIELD Nick Fury appearance in Fantastic Four, circa 1963. Kirby fully illustrated maybe five of these yarns, although he provided breakdowns for all of them. John Severin, Joe Sinnott, Don Heck, Howard Purcell, and Ogden Whitney picked up the art chores to varying degrees of success on the remaining stories. So all the series’ initial up’s and down’s, and its shaky footing for almost two years before Steranko’s earthshattering run, are here to experience again. The 1965 Stan Lee-Jack Kirby SHIELD debut in ST #135 is just as I remembered it from age 10 — a quick 12 pages of boffo action and excitement, featuring hooded HYDRA baddies, a super-cool airborne Porsche, and that wonderful heli-carrier that’s now survived 43 years with little variation (that’s how cool Kirby was). Classic. From there, though, the SHIELD series doesn’t quite take a full nosedive but it does move into spotty territory. Kirby’s pencils immediately disappear, for one thing, which hobbles the first five-part HYDRA story, although it manages to be fun overall. A three-part story about an assault on SHIELD headquarters benefits tremendously from a partial return of Kirby. But a two-parter about a guy called The Druid is a real low-point, and the multi-part introduction of AIM (the guys with the bright beekeepers’ outfits) is really just a rerun of the earlier HYDRA tale. Things look up with the last four stories, one penciled by John Buscema and the final three by Steranko. These episodes mark the return of HYDRA, which was a very good thing that later became exhilarating when Steranko fully took over the series.

Don’t get me wrong. Despite some weak stuff (most of which I’d forgotten over four decades), this is a pretty solid collection. And for fans of Marvel’s “coming of age” in the mid to late 1960s, the book’s a lot of fun. And it provides essential background for a full appreciation of Jim Steranko’s brief, shining comics career, which should make up all of Vol. 2. Now that, friends, will be a reprint volume to be reckoned with.

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Monday, June 09, 2008

Before government agents scared me...

Speaking of Nick Fury, which I was in my last post, here’s the cover of the very first Marvel comic I ever bought with my own money — Strange Tales #135, which featured the debut of “Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD,” a glorious 12-page story scripted by Stan “The Man” Lee and drawn by the great Jack “King” Kirby. (The bonus was a fantastic 10-page Doctor Strange story by Steve Ditko in the back of the book.) This was May 1965, I was 10 years old, the comic cost only 12¢, and of course the cover caught my eye. After all, I’d just spent eight months watching The Man from UNCLE on TV and had only that month seen Goldfinger for the first time — and I was still too young to see government agents as threatening. Very, very neat stuff for a youngster living in the middle of the Cold War.

Anyway, I collected that first full uninterrupted run of SHIELD stories right through 1968 or 1969, then sold them all for pennies when I moved away to college in 1972. I wish to God I still had ’em. But here’s the good news. While web-browsing yesterday afternoon, I discovered that all the episodes (Strange Tales #135-153) right up to Jim Steranko’s groundbreaking run have been collected for the very first time into a hardcover book as part of the Marvel Masterworks series; they’ve also thrown in Fury’s appearance with Captain America in Tales of Suspense #78 (1966) and his 1963 pre-SHIELD appearance in Fantastic Four #21 (1963). Naturally, I ordered a copy right away. I’ve been dying to read these tales again for more than two decades. (I imagine the Steranko tales will appear eventually in a Marvel Masterworks: Nick Fury Vol. 2, and I’ll order the book as soon as I hear of it. But those mindblowing, state-of-the-art stories, which shook up the comics industry in the late 1960s, were republished a few years ago in a paperback edition, so I’ve revisited them recently. It’ll be great to have them in hardcover, though.)

Life is good.

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Warning: HULK contains tobacco images!

I’m told that trailers for The Incredible Hulk, which opens Friday, include the warning “Contains depictions of tobacco consumption.” I hadn’t noticed. But I have noticed that smoking is so rare in movies these days that when it does occur, it’s almost startling.

I’m wondering, though, who’ll do most of the politically incorrect smoking in the Hulk film. My guess: Samuel L. Jackson as the traditionally cigar-chomping Nick Fury, director of SHIELD, whose post-credits cameo in Iron Man was, as I recall, free of the beloved stogie.

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Sunday, June 08, 2008

The weather's too damn nice for blogging


Wednesday, June 04, 2008


Severance Package is brand new from Duane Swierczynski, the third of his crime books I’ve read in the past year and a half. On his blog, Duane himself describes it as “essentially a pulp hybrid of a spy novel and a slasher flick.” A pretty good description, I guess. Like Duane’s last two novels — The Wheelman and The BlondeSeverance Package is genre-bending. It flips the conventions of crime fiction on their heads, grabs ’em by their ankles, then pile-drives them into the concrete. This fucker goes full throttle from the first page. And when it’s finished, you need about an hour to sit still with a glass of your favorite iced beverage pressed to your forehead.

Maybe Severance Package walloped me so effectively because, well, its protagonist, Jamie Debroux, is a PR hack for a company of questionable ethics; for some 15 years, that’s what I did for a living. But I never dealt with the madness Jamie does in Swierczynski’s story. You see, Jamie and his co-workers are called into the office on a Saturday morning for a special meeting, told by their boss that the business has been a front for government intelligence, that it’s being shut down, that the elevators are locked, that the stairwells are rigged with sarin gas bombs, and that each of them is expected to drink the Kool-Aid. Then, as they say, the high-jinks begin.

But here’s the thing. Through all the violence and bloodshed, Severance Package is a goddamn LOVE STORY. It’s about the love of a man for his family, the love of employees for job security, the love between men and women, and men and men, and women and women. Granted, it may be a sick and twisted love story, but it has a lot to say about how we often cling to people and position and possessions and how maybe that’s not always a good thing.

Duane Swierczynski rocks. Read this novel and get rattled to your core. Then lend it to a friend, sit back, and watch them squirm for awhile.

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Book at Bedtime: WAR OF THE WORLDS

The H.G. Wells classic has never been presented more brilliantly.

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Monday, June 02, 2008

Home renovations, part two

Last year, Debbie and I endured six full months — right up until Christmas Day — of remodeling the interior of our house: new floors, built-ins, countertops, doors, the works. Today, a much smaller “phase two” began: replacement of a 22-year-old wood shake roof with fire-resistant asphalt shingles. After six straight hours of scraping and banging while the guys take off the old roof, I notice right now…quiet. Maybe they’re done for the day.

I’m told that today’s noise is nothing compared with what I can expect over the rest of the week, when they start stapling down the new shingles. Thankfully, the job should be done by Friday, maybe even Thursday.

Phase three commences later this month: landscaping the front and back yards. Oh goody.


Bo Diddley RIP

Hey, was that Sam Riddle?

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Well, duh...

Barack Obama visited Mount Rushmore last Friday, his first-ever visit to the South Dakota monument. Here’s a bit from AP’s report:

[Obama] did express curiosity about the filming of a chase scene in North by Northwest, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 classic starring Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint that included a death-defying scramble over Rushmore’s presidential faces.

“How did they get up there in the first place?” he asked ranger Wesley Jensen.

“They didn’t. It was a movie set,” Jensen told him.

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