Friday, June 27, 2008

O'erleaping Ambition

One week ago today I wrote that I had planned on publishing reviews of Karl Hess' autobiography Mostly On the Edge, and Charles W. Johnson's essay "Liberty, Equality, Solidarity: Toward A Dialectical Anarchism," which was recently published in the essay anthology Anarchism/Minarchism: Is Government Part of a Free Country?, within the following week.

Well, here it is, one week later, and I have very little finished on either piece. I simply haven't had as much time to write this past week as I thought I would, and I have a rather action-packed weekend ahead of me.

So it looks far more likely that I will have those pieces completed and published some time in the next week or so, give or take a day or two.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Chinese Government's Kinder, Gentler Final Solution

It would appear that the legally privileged gangsters of "the People's" Republic of China have traded the boot stamping on a human face for the calm, soothing injection to oblivion within the comfortable confines of a "mobile execution chamber."

By way of Disinfo.com, I found this report by Tim Boucher:
What is that fine looking vehicle, you ask? Why, it is part of “China’s new fleet of mobile execution chambers.”

Makers of the death vans say the vehicles and injections are a civilized alternative to the firing squad, ending the life of the condemned more quickly, clinically and safely. The switch from gunshots to injections is a sign that China “promotes human rights now,” says Kang Zhongwen, who designed the Jinguan Automobile death van.

The AOL News link that Boucher cites doesn't appear to be working, but I found this June 2006 USA Today article on the execution of convicted murderer-rapist Zhang Shiqiang in one such death chamber-on-wheels (which appears to be the article Boucher quoted and attempted to link):
The country that executed more than four times as many convicts as the rest of the world combined last year is slowly phasing out public executions by firing squad in favor of lethal injections. Unlike the United States and Singapore, the only two other countries where death is administered by injection, China metes out capital punishment from specially equipped "death vans" that shuttle from town to town...

For years, foreign human rights groups have accused China of arbitrary executions and cruelty in its use of capital punishment. The exact number of convicts put to death is a state secret. Amnesty International estimates there were at least 1,770 executions in China in 2005 — vs. 60 in the United States, but the group says on its website that the toll could be as high as 8,000 prisoners.
I could just see something like this being supported by both major parties here in the United States. Why, just think of all the "terr'rists" they could round up and execute!

And it's all perfectly humane! No muss, no fuss.

(Cross-posted at the Strike-The-Root blog.)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Rest In Peace, George Carlin

Late one Saturday night in October of 1975--when I was very, very young--my parents fell asleep in the living room watching TV. I, however, was wide awake.

The TV was set to the local NBC affiliate. A bearded, crazy-looking dude came on and started making jokes about the church. I was a bit too young to really get the humor, but the studio audience was laughing up a storm. Just the crazed look of the man and the tenor of his voice was enough to make me laugh.

It was a brand new program called NBC's Saturday Night. (The title would be changed to Saturday Night Live a season or two later.) The crazy dude was George Carlin, whom I would appreciate more and more as I got older. One of my favorite comedy albums during my teen years was A Place For My Stuff.



Carlin died Sunday at the age of 71. That really, really sucks.

What doesn't suck, however, is the immense treasure trove of hilarious, incisive, offensive, profound and profane comedy he left to the world.



As I grew up into what is commonly referred to as "maturity," and came to the realization of the deep fucked-upedness of this world, there were a very few people who somehow managed to break through the All-Pervasive Membrane of Stultifying Homogeneity and lob a verbal grenade or two at the masses and remind them of all the fucked-upedness, and how ridiculous it all is and laugh at it with them, always just stopping short of asking them, "And what the fuck are you going to do about it?" Richard Pryor was one. Bill Hicks was another. But the high priest of them all was Carlin, carrying on the gospel bestowed upon him by his savior and messiah, Lenny Bruce.



He was the last of a dying breed, just when we need his kind the most.

ADDENDUM: Butler Shaffer has a rather nice piece on Carlin at LRC.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Pro-Choice, Anti-State

Haven't been able to write much these past few days due to family obligations. We currently have family visiting from out of town who will be with us through the weekend, and it's a most welcome visit.

However, I have had a spare minute here and there to put a couple of cents into the comments thread of a recent post by Charles W. Johnson at his RadGeek site, "Abortion on demand and without apology (Kiwi edition)". What started off as a brief comment by Charles on New Zealand abortion law has evolved into a debate on the always controversial topic of abortion in the comments section, including whether or not a woman should necessarily feel guilt, shame or a need to apologize for having had one. (I say she should not.)

Meanwhile, Roderick Long reminds us that his petition to abolish the United States government is still going strong (now with 349 signatures and counting). That's a very small fraction of this nation's total population, so spread the word far and wide! I signed early on. Of course, this may not do much in actually accomplishing the goal, but it makes for good agitprop in getting the message out to the many millions of Americans who have narrowed their thinking down to the teeny tiny confines of the Demoblican neoconliberal mental box.

I should have more time to write after the weekend. I plan to publish reviews of Karl Hess' autobiography and Charles W. Johnson's essay "Liberty, Equality, Solidarity" (recently published in the anthology Anarchism/Minarchism: Is Government Part of a Free Country?) some time in the coming week, as well as anything else that may strike my fancy.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

What's 'Happening' Now!!

As much as it pains me to admit, I was one of those goofy naifs who really thought it quite possible that M. Night Shyamalan might be damn near the second coming of Hitchcock when I first saw The Sixth Sense back in 1999.

That movie had its flaws, to be sure, and what everyone referred to as the ingenious "twist" at the end was more than a little overhyped. But, finally here was someone attempting a decent horror film that didn't rely solely on masked axe- or chainsaw-wielding homicidal automatons relentlessly hunting down hormone-addled teenagers to provide its thrills. Shyamalan was attempting to create something more in the suspense mold, and whatever flaws The Sixth Sense may have had, he demonstrated quite a gift for building and maintaining tension until the moment of the big payoff. And even in the midst of the somewhat stilted dialogue there was some fairly thoughtful meditation on the inexpressible loneliness of grief and the hovering presence of death in daily life. There was much promise.

Then he made Unbreakable, which I also thought was a decently entertaining, and yes, even somewhat thoughtful movie. What was particularly impressive was that Shyamalan was already attempting to do something completely different than his previous work--an interesting take on the superhero origin myth--and I could appreciate that. It struck me that maybe Shyamalan was gunning to be the John Sayles of the horror/sci-fi/fantasy genre and would endeavor to create something totally unexpected with each new film, and I was quite thrilled by the prospect. And again, he showed a real gift for progressively building tension. After watching that movie I thought, you know, one of these days this guy is going to make a real masterpiece.

I have a hunch, however, that Shyamalan thought the same thing.

Because then he made Signs.

And Signs really, really sucked.

It was The Night's first bad film since his first little known early efforts, and oh man, when he makes a bad film, he makes a really, really awful stinkbomb of a movie. (In hindsight, the crop circles in the advertising should have been the first red flag. Nothing remotely entertaining or interesting could ever come of a story that kicks off its central conflict with the sudden appearance of crop circles.) What was up with the "alien" at the Brazilian kid's birthday party who looked like some kind of knock-off of Creature From the Black Lagoon??? And talk about your contrived, convoluted, cheesy-ass plots. It didn't help that the clumsy attempts at what I could only guess was intended to be deep, introspective dialogue between the characters merely came off as trite or unintentionally comical at best.

Signs has all the marks of a film made by a man convinced of his own genius. Shyamalan was praised to the heavens for The Sixth Sense, his first big feature, which also got him several Oscar nominations and made bucket loads of cash at the box office to boot. While not quite as hyped as Sixth Sense, Unbreakable gave him a lot of glowing reviews by critics who clearly still viewed him atop a pedestal (though some were already growing weary). Signs, unfortunately, showed that he believed his own hype, and that is absolute death for any artist. The movie was one long pontificating diatribe on the subject of faith that simultaneously revealed how seriously the filmmaker took himself and all the reasons why he shouldn't. It was like Stephen King meets Deepak Chopra, and I for one was having none of it.

Once bitten, twice shy. I vowed to never again waste any of my scarce time on this planet viewing aesthetic train wrecks like Signs. A once promising talent had clearly degenerated into dimwit-serioso, pop New Age religious-mystical nonsense. (I was aware of that sensibility being at work to some extent in The Sixth Sense, but it wasn't nearly as intrusive as it was in Signs, and it certainly wasn't nearly as present in Unbreakable.) From then on I would wait to hear some word of mouth before venturing into another theater to see a new M. Night Shyamalan film.

Word of mouth only got worse.

After Signs came The Village, and after The Village came Lady in the Water. Both were excoriated by the critics, as well as by friends of mine whose opinions I trust. I admit I don't know much about The Village other than that everyone in it looks Amish. All I've ever seen of this film is the trailer, judging from which it appears to be a story about some fierce woodland creatures terrorizing some frontier settlers because They Who Must Not Be Named get really pissed off by the sight of the color red for some odd reason. And Lady in the Water appears to be about some waifish young lady who lives in the swimming pool of the apartment complex where Paul Giamatti works as the building superintendent. She speaks in very hushed tones because that's considered, you know, ooooooooo, really creee-eeeepy, or such is my guess. All I know is that both were pretty much panned by the critics and made ample grist for many of my friends' one-line jokes, which they found quite hilarious but were utterly lost on me because I had not seen--and probably never will see--either film.

But still I thought it might be possible for The Night to redeem himself. I yet held hope that he might ditch the silly New Agey theorizing and navel-gazing in favor of something far more satisfying. Mind you, I wasn't expecting some mind-blowing masterpiece. If anything, I hoped against hope that he wouldn't try so damn hard to make a mind-blowing masterpiece, as that was clearly his major obstacle. The man was, and is, quite talented, and for the sake of what he was (I assumed) trying to accomplish--a reinvention of the horror/sci-fi/fantasy genre in film--I pined for the day when that talent would once again produce something at least marginally worthy of it.

Now, my expectations have been really quite low. I've been willing to settle for something only mildly entertaining, or even just an interesting little diversion. Even if he delivered something that was just a step up from watching a pair of ants crawl up a wall, that would have been a major improvement on the last film of his that I had seen.

It would appear that he chose to make The Happening instead.

Again, haven't seen it. Here's the trailer. Yup. Looks like crap.

Every review I've read pretty much hints at or outright confirms my worst suspicions.

You might object, "Aaaaawww, but ya can't trust the critics, Bob! They're a bunch of effete, know-it-all elitist blowhards who wouldn't know 'entertainment' if it popped out of their toilets and bit them on their rear ends." Well, sometimes this is true, and sometimes it isn't.

From what I gather, this is the plot:

Mark Wahlberg, a high school science teacher, is called out of his class one morning and told of some sort of mass hysteria in which people are suddenly killing themselves in very graphic and disturbing ways, and some type of airborne neurotoxin is widely suspected to be the culprit.

Leaving aside the believability of a neurotoxin making people do horrible things to themselves, I can't imagine how the characters in the film arrive at the conclusion that any kind of external agent is involved at all without it becoming anything other than a silly and contrived explanation, if the film even tries to explain that at all. I suspect that articulating the silly "toxin-is-making-people-kill-themselves" premise only lessens the dramatic tension of the film. Perhaps it would in fact be far creepier to not offer any kind of explanation at all. But what do I know? I'm not the one who was given millions of dollars by a major production company to make a horror film.

But whatever the explanation is, it seems to appeal to people who almost gleefully anticipate the ludicrous prospect of "Mother Earth" one day lashing out at us humans to learn us good and hard. That sort of raises a red flag for me. (As if many human beings aren't punished enough by the endless cycle of warfare inflicted by various groups of other human beings known as "governments.")

So Wahlberg and his wife Zooey Deschanel hit the road to escape this encroaching airborne toxin. How they know which direction to go without catching a whiff of the poison floating through the open air is something else that I'll bet makes for a hilarious lesson in B-movie science. Oh, and they're a childless couple--which naturally is a cause of tension between the two--until Wahlberg's buddy John Leguizamo happens to leave his daughter in their care while he goes off in another direction in search of his wife. Aaaaawwww, the childless couple get a kid after all, and I'm sure that together they learn all sorts of invaluable life lessons in the face of massive human tragedy.

If this film is trying to convey the message that the bright side of wide scale disaster and human suffering is that it "brings people together," I would probably vomit right into my popcorn.

Oy. Contrived and stupid, if you ask me.

There may be, however, some hope yet for The Night.

I hear tell that he's set to make the film version of Avatar: The Last Airbender. I don't know much about this animated series, having only caught one episode while recently channel surfing one afternoon, but it interested me enough to look out for other episodes. It's a martial arts/magic/fantasy type thing in which a young "Avatar" comes to grips with growing up while fighting off the aggressions of the "Fire Nation." (I really haven't seen enough of this show to form any definite opinion of it as of yet. Perhaps I'll comment further in a future post.)

Here's why I think Avatar might be Shyamalan's saving grace: The story isn't his own. For the sake of his once promising career, I hope he has the foresight not to dip his hands into the screenwriting one iota and instead leaves it entirely up to someone else--such as the creators of the original series, perhaps--to work up the script. This, I think, is the key. He wrote his last six films himself (for reasons of fairness, I'm not including his early work just out of film school), and the last four of those films were (reportedly) quite, quite dreadful. He has decent storytelling skills--with the camera, but not necessarily with the written word. It's not a pretty thing to say to a film director, "Gee, you sure know how to place the camera in order to get pretty and interesting--even stunning--pictures, but you write like a 12-year-old who has read way too much Dean R. Koontz." But somebody should.

But will The Night be able to set aside his "writer-director" ego long enough to abstain from the scribbling?

Somehow I doubt it.

(Also see: Michael Agger's 2004 piece for Slate, "The Case Against M. Night Shyamalan", and "Five Reasons Not To See 'The Happening'" by Film School Rejects.)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Small Change

So Sen. Barack Obama has all but officially clinched the Democratic party's nomination for president. Change is under way! You know...Change! C-H-A-N-G-E! Chaaaaaaange!

Change! Change! Change! Change!

Following the eight years of massive war, inflation and expansion of police state tyranny that has characterized Bush's turn as almighty lord high emperor, which his fellow Republican John McCain appears to want to continue without so much as even a purely cosmetic alteration, that is the sacred unisyllable mantra chanted repeatedly by the Obama campaign.

How 1992.

It is perhaps quite understandable that many people, battered and dazed by the abusive juggernaut bearing down on them especially hard over the last several years, are tempted to hope against hope that this guy, this one guy, could be, somehow, "different" or "better." It would seem that amnesia and willful blindness are the primary symptoms of Battered Subject Syndrome.

For just as Bill Clinton merely continued the polices of Bush, Sr., but only more so, and with a lot smoother talk and a more charming persona, I have no doubt that Barack Obama, if elected, would merely continue the wars, inflation and abuses of individual liberty that were typical under Bush, Jr., but with the alluring seduction of high-sounding poetic rhetoric expounding supposedly high ideals presented as being far greater than any one individual. I couldn't sum up Obama's tired, retread, pathetic bumper sticker excuse of a platform and the predictable enthusiasm for it from the usual gang of idiots any more succinctly than the great Arthur Silber:

"Jesus God, deliver us from The Stupids. Every time the quality of public discussion in this country descends to previously unknown depths of superficiality, triviality, irrelevance, misdirection and outright lying, I think: 'At least, it can't possibly get any worse than this.' I'm always wrong, every single damned time. The determined lunkheadedness and ignorance of most Americans truly knows no limits. The current orgy of The Ugly Stupids does offer one grimly amusing and fully deserved bonus: most of the major 'progressive' writers and bloggers have been fully revealed as the putrid, nauseating crapfest those fourteen of us with open eyes and basically functioning minds have known them to be for some time. I have laughed very, very hard as I watched many of the major progressive bloggers enthusiastically advance the central storyline of this primary season pushed by...yes, that's right: Matt Drudge. The destruction of Hillary (and Bill) Clinton has been one of Drudge's most fervent and frequently announced desires, lo these many years. And progressive writers and bloggers are such wonderfully compliant dumbasses. Many of them joyously leaped to destroy Hillary Clinton, in precisely the ways and utilizing the exact terms that Drudge encouraged them to use.

"I hope you have a good appetite for heaping helpings of irony, sprinkled with bloody bits of cranial goo gathered from the progressives' teeny tiny, imperceptible brains. You're going to get a lot of it in the next five months. If Obama is elected, you'll get it for the next four or eight years...

"...[L]et us draw a distinction between the candidates' biological identities and what we might term their functional identities. McCain is a white man; no issue arises there. I am well aware that Hillary Clinton is biologically a woman, as I know that Barack Obama is biracial in hereditary terms. By 'functional identity,' I refer to the role all these candidates have chosen to play, in cultural and political terms. (Please note that what follows is not intended to mean that Clinton has not been the target of misogyny or that Obama has not been the target of racism. They have both been the targets of viciously irrational beliefs, for it is not a question of either-or on this point...) Because all three of these politicians have chosen to engage in national politics at the highest level, they have no choice about enthusiastically adopting all the indicia of the ruling class, for indeed they are the ruling class. That is, they have no choice if they want to win. And all three of them assuredly want to win (even if one of them seems to be out of the running for the moment, but much can happen between now and November, and even between now and August).

"Reflect for just a moment about what it is they want to win so desperately. Each of these three persons wants to be the most powerful ruler in the world. Given the nature of the weapons that will be at their disposal, they want to be the most powerful ruler in all of history, with the power to fundamentally transform human history and perhaps even to end it in significant part. Even if you believed that you acted righteously, with justice and truth on your side (let us set aside for the moment how one can believe that the power to murder millions of innocent people can ever be thought to be right or just, although I do not believe such considerations should ever be set aside), would you want power of that kind? If you would, I hope never to meet you. For any person who actively seeks the power of life and death over just one other human being, let alone millions of people, is deeply, irrevocably damaged in psychological terms. If we use the term 'normal' to designate those goals and motives that can generally be described as supportive of individual life and happiness, no one who wants to be president of the United States is remotely close to normal. When you consider the years of relentless, soul-destroying ambition that are required to approach the office of president, together with the indefensible compromises, the endless lies, and the constant exercise of power over others in less extreme forms, anyone who deeply desires to be president verges on a constant state of insanity.

"Yet one of these terrifyingly deranged people will, in fact, be the next president. Many Americans are excited, even thrilled, about the prospect, which tells you a rather important fact about most Americans, actually many important facts. I have numerous reasons for
dreaming of a stateless world. There are others, but these are among the most critical of them."

That Arthur always has a way with words. Go and read the whole thing.

Over at Antiwar.com, Justin Raimondo conceded that his initial enthusiasm for Obama has given way to disgust following Barack Christ Superstar's demonstration that he can pander to AIPAC with the best of them:
"I have to say I was wrong – dead wrong – about Obama. In my eagerness to find a bright spot in a rapidly darkening world, I grasped on to his alluring rhetoric and his at-times trenchant critique of the Bush foreign policy, like a sinking man holding on to a life-jacket. But looking for hope in all the wrong places doesn't create opportunities for peace – it only prolongs our illusions."
Unlike Justin Raimondo, I never had any illusions about Obama to begin with. And unlike Arthur Silber, I don't get too worked up over the fact that it appears as though a great number of people in this country are about to fall for yet another phoney-ass "Change-Change-Change" mantra yet again. After all, I would expect nothing else.

It would seem fairly obvious, I think, that if one were to survey American history spanning, oh, say, the past 100 years or so, a few things would jump out at them, such as, oh, say, the ongoing recurring pattern of war. (Of course, wars and a lot of other disturbing trends stretch much further back in American history, but challenging the long-term memory of most Americans too much occasionally proves to be a bit overwhelming.)

The U.S. government plunged this country into one war after another throughout the 20th Century and into the 21st. There were some periodic breaks, to be sure. Even a war machine has to slow down enough for maintenance every now and then. (Though even during those periods of "peace time" it was often used by its owners for small scale warmongering, lest any foreigners get the fancy notion that they were about to be left alone in peace.)

One other thing that may sort of leap out at ya is the pattern of massive economic booms and busts that oddly seem to be as recurrent as the foreign wars. One would think that, at the very least, others may get a notion to start asking some questions about these and a whole host of other issues too numerous to mention here.

But it would seem that a majority of people still choose not to ask too many questions, nor rock the boat too much. Questions, after all, can lead to some very scary places as many folks may find out that they have wasted most of their lives believing a pack of lies and fairy tales. Worse, it may actually dawn on them that inestimable numbers of other human beings were unnecessarily and avoidably annihilated due to the popular faith in superstitions they themselves helped to propagate. Better to keep living the fairy tales than to experience the painful discomfort of cognitive dissonance.

But people--the "ordinary" people, the workers, artists, shopkeepers and entrepreneurs--can change. That option is open to everyone. Individuals can indeed alter their ways of thinking and behavior. It is possible for one to admit that one is only human and prone to error, renounce the errors committed in the past, and chart a new course. Likewise one's neighbors and by extension one's community. Keep in mind that this is exactly what the John McCains and Barack Obamas of the world do not want. They want instead to perpetuate the illusion of dependence, that power-based relationships--of ruler and the ruled, governor and the governed, oppressor and the oppressed--are actually necessary in order to arrive at some kind of "common good" that is impossible to achieve without their highly specialized arcane knowledge and alleged expertise.

Our fellow humans inhabiting the geographical region commonly known as America continue to play along with the ruling elites' bipartisan shell game that keeps them subjugated and impoverished largely because they believe there are no other options before them. Conditioned from birth that they are mere mortal subjects in need of someone to direct them from above and thus ill-equipped to beat a different path, they feel an inexorable attraction toward somebody, anybody, to point them toward some path, any path. This, of course, is a recipe for enslavement and exploitation. Look to self-styled "leaders" for guidance, and the only kind of "change" you'll ever make is to veer onto a path of self-destruction.

This merely highlights and reinforces the fact that the most effective tools the libertarian activist can use are persuasive argument and exemplary behavior at the most local level possible. As the McCainiacs and the Obamites wage their irrelevant, superficial, non-sequiter arguments over whatever fate each would like to forcibly impose upon the entire country and mindlessly chant their vapid slogans, the truly committed libertarians get down to the work of real change--being a good and involved neighbor in the mutually respectful conception of that term, participating in and thereby helping to influence the local community to take a more voluntarist and humane path. Most importantly, the local libertarian is unafraid to engage others in dialogue that questions and critically examines all of our most dearly held preconceived notions.

This method seems to most to be a frustratingly laborious task with very few immediately apparent results. But being a movement opposed to the very idea of power itself--rather than merely seizing control of power--necessitates such a highly localized strategy. The kind of change necessary to evolve a more peaceful society in which human beings can flourish to their fullest potential unobstructed can only spring upward from a million different gardens.

A lot of small changes can one day add up to one mighty revolution.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

2008 Chicago Peacefest

So your brother's bound and gagged
And they've chained him to a chair
Won't you please come to Chicago just to sing?
In a land that's known as freedom how can such a thing be fair?
Won't you please come to Chicago for the help that we can bring?

We can change the world - rearrange the world
It's dying - to get better

Politicians sit yourselves down, there's nothing for you here
Won't you please come to Chicago for a ride
Don't ask Jack to help you 'cause he'll turn the other ear
Won't you please come to Chicago or else join the other side...
The wife brought home a little flyer the other day for the 2008 Chicago Peacefest, which looks to be a most interesting event.

It will take place June 27-29 in Lincoln Park, 1700 N. Stockton, from Noon to 9 p.m. each day.

The flyer announces that there will be "Speakers, poets, bands, healthy food, peace activists" and "drum circles."

That's right...Drum circles.

I'm not familiar with any of the bands listed, but the names intrigue me: The Individuals; Poverty Tax; Environmental Encroachment; Gen'ral Patton & His Privates; Black Rose and the Disciples of Funk; Punk Picnic; The Innervisionists; The Drum Circle All Stars...

That's right...The Drum Circle All Stars. I take that to mean that all the most popular stars of the drum circle circuit will be on one stage--performing together.

The flyer declares: "It's time to create a new community of free thinkers and brilliant minds who are looking to change the world!"

We're definitely checking it out. If you're a pro-peace libertarian in the Chicago area, you should, too. Such gatherings may be fertile ground for forging alliances with people who are as every bit as fed up with the existing power structure as you are--that is, they're fed up that there even is a power structure.

You never know who you might meet that is every bit as determined as you are to build a new society within the shell of the old.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

CALLing ALL Chicago Area Libertarian Lefties

I and The One Who Is Called "Soviet Onion" have recently been discussing via e-mail the prospects for founding a Chicago area chapter of the Alliance of the Libertarian Left. I for one think it would be a tremendous achievement to establish an ALL chapter in a city rich in the history of American radical politics. CALL (Chicago Alliance of the Libertarian Left) strikes me as a particularly cool acronym.

But we're not just looking for like-minded left-libertarians in the Chicago metropolitan area. If you live anywhere in northern Illiniois, northwestern Indiana or southern Wisconsin, we'd love to hear from you.

What do I mean by "like-minded"? As Charles W. Johnson (of RadGeek.com) sums it up on the web site for the Southern Nevada Alliance of the Libertarian Left, we are looking for
[I]ndividualists, agorists, market anarchists, mutualists, voluntary socialists, and others on the libertarian left. We oppose statism, militarism, sexism, racism, and the prevailing state capitalism fraudulently labeled the free market. We are for peace, individual freedom, truly freed markets, solidarity, voluntary cooperation, and mutual aid. We fight for liberation...using education, nonviolent direct action, and cooperative counter-institutions—not petitions, symbolic protests or electoral politics. We are working to build a new society within the shell of the old.
If you're interested and in the northern Illinois/southern Wisconsin/northwestern Indiana area, by all means drop me a line at the e-mail address to your right. Charles has already been kind enough to set up a web site domain for us. All we need now is a fancy new web site to park in it.

Once we can get some folks together electronically, we can then proceed to gather everyone physically at the most convenient location--perhaps a place we can grab a bite to eat, a drink, or at least a cup of coffee--and discuss how to proceed.

Agora! Anarchy! Action!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Last Roundup

Scott Horton has posted an interview with freelance investigative journalist Christopher Ketcham at Antiwar.com Radio that I highly recommend.

Ketcham discusses his latest article for RadarOnline, "The Last Roundup", in which he tells of a government data base (or perhaps network of government data bases) allegedly code named "Main Core", which may contain names and personal information on as many as 8 million Americans considered to be potentially obstructive of Uncle Sam's "Continuity of Government" operations in the event of some kind of national crisis or emergency. These individuals "could be subject to everything from heightened surveillance and tracking to direct questioning and possibly even detention," according to Ketcham.

Ketcham notes in his article that "Continuity of Government" planning and its attendant lists of suspects is nothing new, and dates back to the early Cold War era. And let's not forget Uncle Sam's rounding up of over 100,000 harmless Japanese Americans into concentration camps following the Pearl Harbor attack.

In 1950, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover supervised the compilation of "the names, identities, and activities" of "suspect" Americans into what was called a "security index" that expanded quite rapidly. Hoover informed President Harry Truman that "suspect individuals would be held in detention camps overseen by 'the National Military Establishment'." The list consisted of "professors, teachers, and educators; labor-union organizers and leaders; writers, lecturers, newsmen, and others in the mass-media field; lawyers, doctors, and scientists; other potentially influential persons on a local or national level; [and] individuals who could potentially furnish financial or material aid" to unnamed "subversive elements."

This "security index" was maintained into the 1980s until the Reagan administration--you know, that paragon of "small" and constitutionally "limited" government--transferred the index to FEMA, though the agency had already been maintaining similar lists of its own since the mid-70s, when it was called the "Federal Preparedness Agency."

Lt. Col. Oliver North of Iran-Contra fame was allegedly involved in supervising similar activity from within the Reagan White House, utilizing a database software program called "PROMIS," which was designed to track various "suspect" individuals by culling information from several different data bases. Ketcham notes that "Main Core" could possibly still have PROMIS legacy code lingering from North's heyday as a water boy for Big Brother.

What's been truly disturbing, of course, is the Great Leap Forward of the national security/domestic spying apparatus since 9/11. But even what has come to public view over the past several years pales in comparison to some of the stuff to which Ketcham alludes in his article and the interview with Horton.

There are presumably plans in effect that would effectively transform the United States into a total police state in the event of some kind of "national emergency"--a natural disaster, or, say, a massive terrorist attack a la 9/11. Martial law would be imposed and a "parallel government" consisting of military rule over state and local jurisdictions would go into effect, with a very select list of people in charge of implementing and managing the new police state. (Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld were both on this list as far back as the 1980s. Why is it that whenever you see one, the other is sure to be hovering close by, like Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader?)

Ketcham reminds us that Bill Clinton signed an Executive Order during his tenure, essentially reinforcing an order issued by Kennedy in the early 60s, stating that the president of the United States can decide all by his lonesome what constitutes a "national emergency." President Bush, Jr. has essentially maintained similar claims in his own executive orders, presidential directives and other high-fallutin' Most-Grand-High-Poobah declarations. In other words, if Dubya considers so much as a clogged toilet in the White House men's room to be a "national emergency," your subversive ass could be adorned with Gitmo jammies and headed to a "detention center" toute suite.

Ketcham maintains that according to his sources--which he says consist of various former government employees intimately knowledgeable of such operations--certain aspects of this "shadow government" are already in effect, and have been since 9/11/01. Ketcham says that there are about 100 or so officials rotating through various secret facilities in Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia, where they are supposedly supervising all sorts of clandestine surveillance all on their lonesome.

There is much other creepiness and spookdom discussed in both Ketcham's article and the interview with Horton of which you, dear reader, should avail yourself.

Interestingly, Horton pointed out during the interview that as ominous as all this sounds, it doesn't seem very realistic to think that the Feds' fantasy fascist police state could actually be implemented in practice, a view with which I tend to agree. After all, how could the same highly centralized bureaucracy that could barely get ice to hurricane-ravaged New Orleans without first shipping it through a long, circuitous route from Pennsylvania to Alabama to Nebraska possibly effect a fascist total state upon a country of more than 300 million people? Especially when its military arm is stretched far and wide across the entire span of the globe, including some 200-250,000 or more troops bogged down in Afghanistan and Iraq?

I fear that Ketcham's reply, however, is all too true: Americans are more pliant, spineless and obedient than ever before. Government bureaucrats wouldn't have to do too much themselves if they succeed in brainwashing a critical mass of people into believing that any of their neighbors, their friends--even their spouses or children or parents--are potential enemies, possibly collaborating with "Islamofascist" terrorists to overtake the country.

Think about it: This is the country where all sorts of bizarre hallucinations have held sway over the majority of the population. Americans are the people who actually believed that the Germans could practicably have sailed across the vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean to submit them all to Nazi rule, even as Hitler's forces were simultaneously struggling to occupy vast swaths of Europe and fight the Soviets. This is the country where so many people actually believed that there was a vast communist conspiracy from within that could have enslaved us all to Moscow, even as our own government was conspiring to round up anarchists and assorted "leftists" in Korea for mass executions and subsequently napalmed Vietnamese peasants. This is the country where so many people speak of the ominous implications of Iran's alleged nuclear weapons capability--for which there is absolutely no evidence--while others essentially excuse the U.S. government's own history of nuking civilian populations and the vast nuclear arsenal it currently maintains, as well as overlook or justify the very likely possibility that Israel's government maintains around 150 or so nuclear weapons of its own and refuses to share any details thereof with other countries.

Given some particularly spectacular catastrophe, especially a massive terrorist attack, I'll bet you dollars to donuts that all it would take is some stern-looking government-paid "experts" to go on CNN and Fox News to extol the virtues of surrendering one's freedom for the common good of national security in order to psychologically deputize millions of people as willing agents of the state.

Ketcham mentions that one encouraging fact is that there are about 500-600 million private guns going around in a nation of a little more than 300 million people. But what good are those guns in a fascist state if a majority of the people fall under the mental sway of propaganda and misinformation following another horrific terrorist incident? What if they actually agree with the government that all those guns are to be pointed at anyone--Arabs, antiwar protesters, political dissenters of varying stripes--other than the power-hungry control freak bureaucrats? After all, what sense does it make to turn against the very people who claim to be protecting you and keeping you safe?

Who do you really think these guys would side with?

Then again, I could be wrong.

I'd like to think that if these homegrown Nazis in Washington ever got crazy enough to actually go the whole fascist hog, most people would wholly reject it and organize themselves into various networks of cooperative resistance utilizing a wide array of strategies. (Carl Watner particularly has some interesting things to say on this subject.) I'd like to think that a massive power grab by the state would provoke the people of this country to effectively drive a stake right through its heart, followed by nothing but a final shrill death shriek as it's reduced to a mere puddle of harmless ooze, much like the hydra-headed beast of a science fiction flick.

But I'll take absolutely nothing for granted.

(Cross-posted at the Strike-The-Root blog.)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

When the Left Was Right

Bill Kauffman--author of Look Homeward, America: In Search of Reactionary Radicals and Front-Porch Anarchists and the recently published Ain't My America: The Long, Noble History of Antiwar Conservatism and Middle-American Anti-Imperialism--has written a rather interesting article, "When the Left Was Right", published about a fortnight ago by The American Conservative, in which he retrospects on the unfulfilled promise of the New Left movement of the 1960s. It's definitely worth a read, especially for those presently toiling in the fields of the libertarian movement's leftward frontier.

Kauffmann reminds his readers that before the New Left was overtaken by a mix of what was basically a new loudmouth generation of New Deal-style neoliberal corporatists and crass, intolerant and outright violent Stalinists and Marxist-Leninists, there really was quite a bit of libertarian decentralism in that movement:
"Let us remember the other New Left—a humane, decentralist, thoroughly American New Left that regarded socialism as 'a way to bury social problems under a federal bureaucracy,' in the words of Carl Oglesby, president of Students for a Democratic Society in 1965-66 and a key figure in its Middle American wing, which extended from independent anti-imperialist liberals to trans-Mississippi 'Prairie Power' radicals. ('Texas anarchists,' sneered the elite East Coast-schooled red-diaper babies at the hell-raising directional state college Prairie Power kids.)"
Oglesby, however, though he was without a doubt one of the brightest intellectual stars in the New Left's firmament, was, alas, hounded out of that movement by the barbarians who snuck past the gates:

"Oglesby was drummed out of SDS in a 1969 star-chamber trial. A harridan named Arlene Eisen Bergman arraigned him for being 'trapped in our early, bourgeois stage' and for not progressing into 'a Marxist-Leninist perspective.' Oglesby’s sins, as enumerated by Bergman, included 'that bizarre last chapter in your book...where you actually propose an alliance with what you call, let’s see, "principled conservatives".'

“'SDS is not trying to reach the readers of Life magazine,' [Bernardine] Dohrn shouted at Oglesby. Carl was expelled; he went on to record two fine albums of folk-Beat Americana, and one supposes that his vision came closest to being realized in the music of Bob Dylan, the Minnesota-bred Goldwater-admiring scourge of the masters of war who wrote in the liner notes to his 1993 album 'World Gone Wrong,' 'give me a thousand acres of tractable land & all the gang members that exist & you’ll see the Authentic alternative lifestyle, the Agrarian one.'

"What Oglesby called the 'freewheeling participatory democracy' of SDS was dynamited by the likes of [William] Ayers and Dohrn, representatives of the very worst of the anti-American Left, who have settled into their sixties in comfortable prosperity while Carl Oglesby, lacking inherited wealth, battles illness as best he can. Life ain’t fair. The cheerleaders and the rich boys always win, don’t they?"

In its best moments, the New Left also produced such fine scholars as William Appleman Williams and Gabriel Kolko, both of whom made invaluable contributions to left-libertarian scholarship in their chronicles of the rise of the American corporatist state, that vast, tangled web of big government and big business that now ensnares communities and individuals, reducing them to mere means to a parasitic managerial class' limitless power-lust.

Read the whole thing, if you haven't already. Kauffman's conclusion is, I think, particularly prescient.

Rothbardian Property Ethics In 12 Simple Words

Inspired by Murray Rothbard's essay "Confiscation and the Homestead Principle", Brad Spangler sums up the current statist system of private property in one succinct sentence, with a nod to Proudhon.

Hell, you could put it on a bumper sticker. That might get people talking.