Tue - August 31, 2010

Usually when I do a review I give the title, tell you what I thought, and mention a few things you may find interesting

Go. Find it.

Watch it.

Think about it.

Tell someone you respect. Get them to watch it.

Talk about it.

My personal rating system puts this at 5, a Classic. Considering that most of my favorite films never make it above 4.75 (between Worthy and Classic) that should tell you something.

Posted Tue - August 31, 2010 at 12:11 PM  

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Mon - May 24, 2010

About that Machete trailer

It's not what you think. Film maker Robert Rodriguez is drumming up interest in his film.

It isn’t. I would not put out a movie like that. Not only would that be irresponsible, it’d be dull and un-entertaining.

I simply wanted to make a special trailer that was as absurd as what was happening in Arizona. So I took some coincidentally timely lines of dialogue from the old original fake trailer from 3 years ago and from the new movie, reconfigured action beats, and cut it all out of context to make it look like the entire film was about Machete leading a revolt against anti-immigration politicians and border vigilantes. What can I say, it was Cinco de Mayo and I had too much tequila.

Anyway, that’s not what the movie is. In fact the main villain and Machete’s nemesis is a Mexican drug lord from a powerful cartel (played by Steven Seagal) that kills Machete’s family and runs him out of Mexico for being an honest cop, which is why Machete’s forced to work as a day laborer in the US.

Seagal’s character follows him to the US to kill him off when Machete starts messing up the assassination attempt that Seagal’s character funded. Seagal was so awesome we kept expanding his role on the set. The Big Final battle is Machete vs. Seagal and it’s amazing. A side storyline about politicians and extremist vigilante characters that you see in the trailer are not taking a stand for reasons you would think, and the movie clearly shows corruption on both sides of the border. Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time on the border, being 4th generation Mexican-American gives you a unique view of both sides.

So how accurate is this information?

Admittedly, AICN is a fanboy site and they have gotten quite a bit wrong. However, never in an interview.

Rodriguez is a friend and neighbor with Harry Knowles, who did the interview.

The film he describes sounds a lot better than the one in the supposed trailer.

Posted Mon - May 24, 2010 at 11:54 AM  

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Thu - March 11, 2010

Habitually Viewing - Febuary 7th to March 8th

I'm still working my way through Rome, that is one extra dense miniseries. The contrasting situations are really good. The obvious one of course is between Julius Caesar and Octavian, but the one between Cleopatra and Octavia is pretty good too. Despite the circumstances where she enters the story, Cleopatra is a Player and manages to hold her own against both the elder Caesar and Mark Antony. Poor Octavia on the other hand is destined to always be a pawn in someone else's game. I think my favorite moment in the whole series so far was when the younger Caesar (Octavian) called Mark Antony on his behavior and Antony realized for the very first time that he wasn't the smartest guy in the room with the best hand.

If I have an objection to this series, it's in the featurettes on the last disc of the first season. Our society isn't quite so far removed from ancient Rome as the actors would have you believe. The smug sense of moral superiority does not contrast well with the story.

Then there is The Seventh Victim, which may be a sequel or a prequel to the classic The Cat People. Unfortunately, much of the film was cut before release and what is left is a bit of a mess. There are some polished facets though, the bit where the apartment is opened for the first time, the subway sequence, and the very end. Chalk this one up in the almost category.

A Boy and His Dog is a classic of the post-apocolyptic science fiction school. Oddly enough, I'd never seen it. It stars a very young Don Johnson in one of his better roles. Between the telepathic dog and the underground society, I don't know which is a better commentary on modern society. The ending, well, I think it works in context but I see why people were offended.

I'm adding Seven Days in May to my Cold War classics shelf. That makes about nine films that taken together, paint a truer picture of the times than history itself. Even if you aren't thrilled with the storyline, it's a John Frankenheimer film with Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, and Frederick March. Pay particular attention to the press briefing near the end of the film (yes, monitor TVs used to be that big). The staging on this one is marvelous. Well worth it.

Imagine Me & You is a throwaway romantic comedy, good for a bit but not great. I thought that Anthony Head was terribly miscast and I was all set to dismiss this film, Then came the birthday cake scene. Subtle and absolutely devastating, and Head pulled it off perfectly. This is one film where the supporting roles were better than the "leads." Pay attention to the younger sister too.

Posted Thu - March 11, 2010 at 09:27 AM  

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Tue - February 9, 2010

Habitually Viewing - Febuary 1st to Feburary 6th

I don't have HBO or any pay-per-view channels. By the time I hear about a good series, it's had a chance to make or break it on it's own and I'll reap the benefits by watching (and occasionally buying the DVDs.

This last week I started Rome. This was good. Really, really good. Yes, parts of the history were a little "stretched," but it was certainly true to the spirit. No abstract people in togas and robes barely occupying pure white marble architecture. This Rome was lived in, right down to the graffiti and the ramshackle shop stalls. These were an earthy people without body consciousness where eating and sex were just another part of living. My one objection to the art design is that the statues and the buildings are supposed to be painted and colorful. We think of Greece and Rome as pristine white marble because that's what we see now, but that's only because the pigment has long since flaked off.

I groove on politics and history, but that might put some people off. It was a huge part of Roman history though, especially in Julius Caesar's time. More importantly, these characters live it. We don't just hear that Marc Antony has been made a tribune, we see him in the white robe and learn that tribunes are supposed to be inviolate. Neat comparison to Rome itself there. We see Atia of the Julii with all her manipulations to keep her family at the center. We feel Octavia's despair as she is dragged screaming into her mother's schemes even as she loses herself. We see Julius Caesar not so much a man of destiny as a man who juggles nearly everything and still manages to keep his balance. Pompey Magnus lives on past glories never realizing the world has changed without him.

And Octavian. You can see why this boy would become Caesar Augustus, the first Emperor. Absolutely brilliant and well capable of drawing men into his orbit even at a young age. Julius Caesar did it through force of arms, Octavian would do it through reason.

Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo work as the everyday soldiers drawn into the great events of the time. I'm not sure I found more appealing, Lucius the breadwinner who has neglected his family or Titus the rogue who finds himself caring.

Be warned though, these characters are not abstracted and do not share contemporary morals. Most women aren't much more than property. Slavery exists and is a major trade. Torture is casually discussed and just as casually demonstrated. And there is a shakedown that reveals only too well the tradition that the modern Mafia draws from.

I only did the first two discs this last week, but I'm looking forward to the rest.

I try to break up long DVD series with another story or two so I don't get fixated. That's why I chose Get Smart the movie. This one wasn't that good. Yes there were some very good gags, but overall it fell flat. When Mel Brooks and Buck Henry created the character Maxwell Smart, he was a bumbling idiot who only succeeded through blind chance and circumstance. But in this version, he's already an accomplished intelligence analyst and has some serious physical skills. He's just too good, and the movie suffers.

It isn't on my rentals, but I watched 2081 last night. This short based on the Kurt Vonnegut story "Harrison Begeron" is one of the best film adaptations I've seen in a long time. I have only minor nitpicks, you would really enjoy it.

Posted Tue - February 9, 2010 at 01:52 PM  

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Tue - February 2, 2010

Habitually Viewing - January 25 to January 31

These "Habitually Viewing" entries are cross posted between Technopagan Yearnings and Pagan Vigil. Film is one of my passions and I'm very eclectic in my tastes.

Torchwood is a spin-off (and anagram) of the rebooted Doctor Who series on the BBC. It's more adult in it's focus, less of the "gee whiz" science, a bit darker and riskier, with a smattering of sex and adult relationships. Characters die, even if they are good guy heros saving the Earth. Series three had one story for the whole season, Children of the Earth.

A bit of backstory. Torchwood was created by Queen Victoria to defend the British Empire from extra-terrestrial threats. It doesn't answer to anyone except itself and perhaps the Crown. Needless to say, it has rocky relationships with the Government, with UNIT (sort of a combined UN military arm) and assorted visitors from "out there."

Captain Jack Harkness is an immortal from the future stranded in the present day. He's already lived the equivalent of several lifetimes.

The plot wasn't original. Alien threat wants Earth's children and can control them from a distance.

No, what made this story interesting is that it took a decidedly anti-government turn. The Prime Minister ordered the destruction of Torchwood to keep it from interfering. Oh, not directly of course. Nothing documented that would lead to the cabinet. And with human civilization on the edge of collapse, all the Government can worry about is how to "spin it." That's a direct quote.

It's worth it just to see what happens to the government machinations and who really is a good man. Long though, it's clocks in at six hours on two DVDs.

And then there was Silent Running. This is "the" environmental SF movie before environmentalism became such a big movement. It has a couple of other firsts too. Cute non-human robots and banged-up tech didn't originate with Star Wars, it started with this film. One of these days I'll tell about the movie that may have inspired Darth Vader, but that is for another entry.

I'd seen this one before, but it's still fun to watch. And aside from the homicidal impulses, Bruce Dern may have captured the perfect essence of a technopagan.

Right down to swimming under a waterfall and wearing a loose robe…

In the story, plant life is extinct on earth. It exists only in dome farms attached to huge space freighters. Dern's character is the botanist aboard one of the ships. The order comes to eject and destroy the farms so the freighters can return to the inner Solar System and be reassigned to other jobs.

This is one of maybe six films prior to Star Wars that influenced the feel of "realistic space films" for almost every film that followed.

A couple of interesting things. Silent Running was a budget film, the company saved a bunch of money but shooting most of the interiors on a decommissioned aircraft carrier. The exteriors were done on a shoestring and still look very impressive by today's standards. And the robots are played by double amputees.

Posted Tue - February 2, 2010 at 07:37 AM  

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Tue - January 26, 2010

Habitually Viewing - January 3 to January 24 - updated

With this entry I'm going to start cross posting my Netflix rental reviews at both Pagan Vigil and Technopagan Yearnings. My choices are a little strange and combine a bit of everything, but so do I. Content is content and film is one of my passions. I've got three weeks worth, so it's going to be longer.

For some reason I never saw L.A. Confidential when it came out. It makes a great companion piece to The Maltese Falcon. The art direction is superb. The cinematography is gorgeous. But about a third of the way in, I noticed something bothering me. It took me a while to figure out.

Plastic people.

It works for one of the cops who is supposed to be the fresh faced newbie. And it works for the female lead who in the story owes her looks to plastic surgery. But it doesn't work for the other two hero cops.

Their faces don't look lived in. Given a different make-up job maybe Russell Crowe could pull it off. But otherwise the hero cops look too good and it puts a discordant note into an otherwise enjoyable film.

Joy House is a period piece and it hasn't aged well. Still, it's an interesting examination of an unusual path to women's power. And a heckuva condemnation of the usual gender roles of the time. Jane Fonda turns in a strong performance, and Alain Delon certainly pulls off the womanizer. Good film as long as you don't take it seriously.

The Last Winter is mostly a B horror flick, but it does have one outstanding quality. I've seldom seen a winter wilderness filmed better (maybe in Fargo). Now if they showed less of the monster and ditched the Resident Evil-esque ending, it might move from okay to good.

I picked Spartan because I wanted to see Kristen Bell stretch her chops. Her role here is nothing special. Mostly the film is the government paranoia thing that we've seen time and time again. Val Kilmer does well, but then I've never seen him not do well. I'm not sure how this film could have been better, but a couple of weeks later I had to check out the Wikipedia entry to remind myself of the plot.

The Dark is one of those films that could have been great. It uses way too many sudden loud sounds to startle you, and after the third one you just start ignoring them. It does have a fairly nice segment set in, well, not an afterlife but certainly another realm. This film almost does the classic quest with the realization that the entity isn't evil, just with a different morality. It could have been a great take on the Orpheus and Eurydice myth albeit in a Welsh setting. But in the end, it sticks to good vs evil. Change four minutes of film and about six lines of dialogue and it would have been an intriguing and memorable film.

Okay, blatant plug time. It wasn't in my rentals, but as long as we're talking about modern films that borrow heavily from the classics, When Night is Falling is an excellent take on the Cupid and Psyche story. Amazing art direction and cinematography too.

Solstice is a B grade horror flick with not-so-accurate Voudun rituals and beliefs. It does have an intriguing ritual with the circle of friends standing chest deep in the swamp. Yeah, it was probably done to focus attention on the cleavage and the chiseled chests, but it was still interesting.

Believers is a film that can't decide what it wants to be. The Twilight Zone ending doesn't help.

I've a censorship fetish, often I'll read a book or watch a film to see what all the fuss is about. Lemora was banned by the Catholic League of Decency. That's pretty much this film's strongest point. The ending is intentionally ambiguous. Interpreted one way, it could be a daydream about a child coming into her identity and sexuality. Interpreted another, it's a creepy bit of near paedophilia with a vampire lady. Vampire films often explore sexual themes, and this one is no exception. As a horror film, it's better written than most. But I'm not comfortable exploring this side of children's sexuality even if it is only on film. It's nothing explicit, but it certainly pushes the buttons. Pay close attention to the way that the girl's appearance changes between the two church "bookends" of the film.

Holiday stars Cary Grant and Audrey Katharine Hepburn. You should watch it for that reason alone. It was made the same year as Bringing Up Baby, another Grant/Hepburn vehicle which most would team it with. But I think Holiday pairs better with The Graduate. The plot is nothing exceptional and the photography is workmanlike. As a character study, it's amazing. Later in his life, Cary Grant was typecast as the dapper gent so much that audiences wouldn't accept him in other roles. This is well before that, here you see the shy clown peeking out from behind a half grin and a wink. The suit isn't the best cut and the tie is often askew, but the character charges across the screen with boundless energy dragging everyone else along.

And Hepburn, ahh, sweet Kate, she owns this film. Hepburn was never a classic beauty, but by all the gods, is she ever sexy in this film. That poise, that presence, that precise wit all delivered from her secret heart in the room hidden behind the wealth in the mansion. She can do the society thing, but that isn't where her character lives. She really lives in that plain nursery with all the family's abandoned hobbies (nice touch that). Her character can THINK and talk, unusual even today. She knows both the value of silence and the well placed word. She prizes simple joys over propriety, and you can see the animal passion oozing out. Very much this is a lady who longs to live her life with gusto and is on the brink of doing exactly that.

The film is about facades and finding your true heart. Well worth it.

Oddly enough, Bringing Up Baby (not in my rentals) almost exactly reverses these roles. There it's Hepburn's character dragging Grant's character along for the ride. Add a leopard and it gets interesting.


Sorry about that, not quite awake yet.

Posted Tue - January 26, 2010 at 06:59 AM  

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Wed - March 18, 2009

Television musings

I don't watch that much regular television.

The news is useless. Even a few years ago, you could count on the major stories hitting the New York Times first, then the local dailies, and then the network news. If you aren't into pro sports or celebrity fluff, there are better places to get the news.

I can't stand commercials, and I really despise this bit of covering more and more of a currently running program to advertise another program.

Most of the current series just don't look that interesting. Dollhouse looks intriguing, but I will probably wait until it's available on DVD. That's how I prefer things these days, without those thrice blasted commercials.

I do follow Mythbusters. And for fiction, I'm really partial to Bones. For someone who has a thing for strong, intelligent women who can hold their own, any series with three who just also happen to be drop dead sexy is going to get my attention.

But one of my guilty pleasures lately has been NCIS. I had never watched it before I got arrested, now I've seen quite a few episodes. I'm rather partial to goth gals, and as I said I really like strong intelligent women, so that is part of the attraction.

One thing I have noticed though is that the NCIS team regularly breaks the rules and usually the law in every single episode. I don't know if it's intentional or not. But it does raise an interesting question.

If the only way for the "good guys" to win is to cheat, why are they the good guys?

Posted Wed - March 18, 2009 at 05:01 PM  

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Mon - June 11, 2007

Amateurish writing - updated

A friend suggested I read Andrew Keen's The Cult of the Amateur. Normally I would finish reading the whole book before even attempting anything like a review, but this book is wrong on so many levels.

One of the things that Keen talks about is the demise of the "cultural gatekeepers." He seems to forget that the same television network that brought Roots was responsible for The Love Boat. There aren't any cultural gatekeepers, there are people with products to sell. Some are good, some are bad, some will last, some will fade away. They don't do it out of the goodness of their heart or dedication to a higher purpose, they do it for the cashflow.

Elvis Presley is classic rock and roll today, but in the 1950s he was a scandal.

Leonardo da Vinci was quite possibly one of the greatest minds of all time, yet he spent most of his time trying to find and keep a patron.

The "experts" have been wrong far more than they have been right, especially with culture. The real innovations have always come from the edge, not from some mythical central authority.

Andrew Keen's other great mistake is to invoke the infamous double standard again. He's all too willing to blame "rabid conservatives" (his phrase), but he overlooks the questionable actions of liberals if they make the right noises.

Given his mistakes so far and his attitude towards the lowly "amateur," I am not sure I am going to be able to finish the book.

UPDATE - I want to add here.

Long before the internet was a gleam in anyone's eye, long before CNN smashed network news, local papers and television news took cues from one source, the New York Times. Stories and editorials from one week of the NYT spawned similar stories and editorials all over the country the following week.

Now, was the New York Times accurate? Was it really all the news that was fit to print.


Occasionally the editorial board had a hand in news coverage and it was, shall we say, slanted towards the RIght Direction (which just happened to be the left side of politics). That doesn't mean they are right or wrong, it just means that the Times is not unbiased.

Even as the staffers say otherwise.

There is an old saying, "if it bleeds it leads." It was true in the news business long before there was a Michael Jackson or Paris Hilton.

When TV news goofed, it goofed big. I was peripherally involved in two news stores that 60 Minutes ran. In one, they just manufactured the story and later denied it. The other was just biased.

So do we really need a "cultural gatekeeper" sift through and decide what is good and what isn't? Well, that depends. Most people aren't interested in opera, even if you tell them it's important. And just because one critic likes something doesn't mean you will.

For example, I could tell you about a science fiction classic, the original Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov. If you have never read it before though, you could be very disappointed. All the "action" bits happen off stage. The novels make you think. At the same time, I would tell you to avoid the later additions to the series, especially the last book which I think weakens Asimov's premise.

Let's take music. The Oak Ridge Boys may not be Beethoven, but there are times when classical is inappropriate. Mozart was brilliant, but Queen's "We will rock you" fires up the stadium fans. Litz set the standard for classical piano, but Aretha Franklin joined passion with a demand in her version of "Respect."

Let's take film. You know who Mark Hamill is , and you know he played Luke Skywalker. But I could tell you about a little film he did called Corvette Summer. It wasn't a classic by any means, but it was an enjoyable little film that is worth seeing. If you are a classic comedy fan, you know Cleavon Little from Blazing Saddles and numerous guest shots on television. But I could tell you about the amazing over the top performance he did in a film with Jim Carey called Once Bitten. A film with an amazing dance sequence that convinced me that Jim Carey may have been the most gifted physical comic since Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd. Not a great film, but it had some brilliant moments.

Looking back on it, this stuff is obvious. But the "cultural gatekeepers" of the time would have nothing to do with these works.

Posted Mon - June 11, 2007 at 05:07 AM  

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Tue - May 15, 2007

Spiderman 3 jumps the shark

Okay, I know it was never meant to be an "important" film.

But I think Sam Rami stopped caring about this film long before he finished making it.

We have not one, not two, but THREE musical numbers. Including one with "spider moves" dance steps.

Four musical numbers if you count the street montage bit.

All I wanted was to take a lady to a fun film. This one wasn't it.

Posted Tue - May 15, 2007 at 07:56 AM  

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Fri - April 20, 2007

"What kind of parent brings his kid to the Amazon so that yetis can throw boulders at him?"

Jason Weigal at ReasonOnline interviews Jackson Publick of The Venture Brothers.

Superscience, the hubris of the Boomer Generation, superheros, and "self-righteousness that pretends to be patriotism" all come in for a through skewering.

That's the deeper thing behind it -- it's me voicing my disappointment that we don't have that kind of magic going on any more, that level of enthusiasm and hope. That extends to the kind of cultural stuff that was going on in the 60s, a youthful generation thinking they could change the world. I'm voicing my displeasure at having been born in a time when some of that magic, for lack of a better word, is gone, and some of those promises that were made in all of our pop culture were never met. My laptop is the coolest thing that's come out of that. I'm still waiting on my jet pack.

So am I.

The interview is worth reading.

Posted Fri - April 20, 2007 at 05:30 AM  

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Thu - April 19, 2007

Why do modern liberals keep making message films?

Dirty Harry over at libertas has a review of The Hoax. I want to draw special attention to this bit.

Taking your audience out of a film — even to trash Chimpy BusHitler’s illegal war in Iraq — is not good filmmaking. A good filmmaker makes his point without killing the story. A good filmmaker makes his point without wielding the hammer. Do you think all these liberal critics would be gushing over The Hoax if it suddenly skidded to a halt to trash Hillary Clinton? Of course not. But as we all know by now, bad filmmaking’s given a pass if the target’s right.

And it really is heartbreaking because there’s a great movie in there. Irving’s an absolutely fascinating character and Gere is superb in his best role in years. He makes Irving surprisingly sympathetic, especially at the beginning. It’s scary how much you root for him – but hard not to after watching the publishing company treat him so shabbily. Anyone who’s ever suffered that cruel kind of dismissive rejection will get a huge kick out of watching Irving turn the tables and jump them through the hoops, because now he has what they want. This dog created his own day; and you cheer every lie, power play, and dishonest victory. Who hasn’t dreamed of outsmarting the people who mercilessly wield the power to drop you into despair?

Dirty Harry makes an important point there.

Look, I am a film buff. I really enjoy a good film and many a not so good film. But you know, I couldn't stand Happy Feet. And I am a Pagan and environmentalist.


Most directors don't have the brass, experience, or skill to pull it off.

When people go to a film, they usually want to be entertained.

They don't want to hear about how Bush is the Ultimate Evil. And when those films fail, as they almost always do, all that has happened is that Bush & Co. have been further isolated from criticism.

If I want to see a scam movie, that is what I what I want to see at the moment. If I want to see a animated film with singing and dancing animals, then that is what I want to see. If I want to see a slasher film, then that is what I want to see.

Not some propaganda.

I'm pretty ecumenical in my film tastes. I will watch almost anything. But message films, especially CLUMSY message films, annoy me. Annoy me enough and I will start actively working against your cause just to keep the agitators busy so I can enjoy my films in peace.

Posted Thu - April 19, 2007 at 05:38 AM  

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Fri - April 13, 2007

Award winning book censored in 8th grade classes

In the lively discussion in response to this thread, regular reader watcherinthewind and I disagreed on how much influence parents should have over some choices of their older children.

How much influence should other parents have over what your children are exposed to? Unfortunately we know what one San Francisco area school district decided.

Citing his concern for "the morals of our society," Burlingame schools Superintendent Sonny Da Marto has stopped four eighth-grade classes from reading "Kaffir Boy," an award-winning memoir of growing up in a South African ghetto during apartheid.

Da Marto had banned the book from the Burlingame Intermediate School late last month when the 13- and 14-year-old students were nearly halfway through it, said their English teacher, Amelia Ramos, who was required to take the books back from 116 students.

"The kids were angry," Ramos said. "They were frustrated. They were appalled. And some were so upset that they couldn't muster any type of verbal response. They were very quiet."

A divided Burlingame Board of Education discussed the issue at a public meeting Tuesday night but declined to reverse Da Marto's decision.

The book has been challenged frequently since its publication in 1986 because of two graphic paragraphs describing men preparing to engage in anal sex with young boys. Although Ramos taught "Kaffir Boy" last year without incident, a parent complained this year -- and Da Marto agreed.

Now I am not a parent, I will admit that up front. If you have read this blog for very long, you'll also know I am not a fan of public education, largely because I believe that it removes a parent's ability to choose for their child.

I did read Kaffir Boy years and years ago. As I recall, it told of overcoming the situation. In that, it shares the same approach as Huckleberry Finn, where the language and situation is used to POINT OUT Huck's realization that the escaped slave Jim was a better man then most of the other men in the book, including Huck's father.

Pretty potent stuff. Makes for amazing stories. Even more so when it's based on what really happened.

I believe we call that inspiration.

If teens are interested, I think they are going to get information no matter what adults try to do. I believe we owe it to them and to ourselves to make sure that the information is available and accurate.

By focusing on the anal sex, the school administrators have just waved a red flag in front of the kids. Never mind that this would have been an amazing opportunity to talk about sexual consent and ethics. The two things that the kids know for sure is that nonconsensual anal sex gives power and that adults are afraid to talk about it.

Nice job.

Posted Fri - April 13, 2007 at 05:22 AM  

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Wed - March 21, 2007

300 and politics

I saw 300 on Sunday night and I thought it was pretty good. But I am amazed about everything that people are reading into it.

So is Neal Stephenson.

Thermopylae is a wedge issue!

Lefties can’t abide lionizing a bunch of militaristic slave-owners (even if they did happen to be long-haired supporters of women’s rights). So you might think that righties would love the film. But they’re nervous that Emperor Xerxes of Persia, not the freedom-loving Leonidas, might be George Bush.

Our so-called conservatives, who have cut all ties to their own intellectual moorings, now espouse policies and personalities that would get them laughed out of Periclean Athens. The few conservatives still able to hold up one end of a Socratic dialogue are those in the ostracized libertarian wing — interestingly enough, a group with a disproportionately high representation among fans of speculative fiction.

The less politicized majority, who perhaps would like to draw inspiration from this story without glossing over the crazy and defective aspects of Spartan society, have turned, in droves, to a film from the alternative cultural universe of fantasy and science fiction. Styled and informed by pulp novels, comic books, video games and Asian martial arts flicks, science fiction eats this kind of material up, and expresses it in ways that look impossibly weird to people who aren’t used to it.

It's just a story. Stylized, bloody, graphic, and taking all sorts of liberties with history, but just a story.

I have to wonder if the reason progressive filmmakers see political conspiracies in film is because their films have such a heavy subtext.

Maybe that's why the "right" movies don't do well at the box office.

Posted Wed - March 21, 2007 at 05:34 AM  

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Thu - March 8, 2007

Some of the other blogs

Obviously I couldn't mention all of the blogs that make me think, there wasn't room if I had to pick just five. So here are some of the others that are worth your time.

Coyote Blog by Warren Meyer
Dispatches from a Small Business
This one missed my top five by a half a hair, it really was a tossup between him and Rite Wing TechnoPagan. Not only is Warren Meyer a fellow Arizonian, but he takes the practical business view of government. I cite him quite a bit and for good reason. I really like his approach.

A site for individualist feminism and individualist anarchism
She's blunter than many of the others, but she usually gets me to think about things in a new way. I actually discovered her site through ifeminists.com when I was looking for alternatives to the usual progressive feminist viewpoint.

Nobody's Business by Rogier van Bakel
Pro-Liberty. Anti-Nannies.
Rogier and I share respect for the writings of the late Peter McWilliams, his blog title is drawn from the title of McWilliam's best known work. His European perspective on American liberty often catches me off guard, but I am never sorry when I read his site.

Brain Terminal by Evan Coyne Maloney
(no description available)
Definitely conservative rather than libertarian, but the man has brass and loves freedom. He first got attention by asking questions of protesters in the streets and posting videos of their answers on the web. He is one of the sites I use to detoxify after wandering through some of the darker bits of the Daily Kos.

Posted Thu - March 8, 2007 at 02:43 PM  

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Thu - March 1, 2007

Looking at 2057 (updated)

With everything that has been happening, I got "behind" on my TV watching. The Discovery Channel showed a special called 2057 a couple of weeks ago and I taped the first two episodes. I haven't seen the third one yet.

The shows were divided between speculating what will happen in 50 years of tech advances and a storyline showing how those advances could work in real life. I loved the possible tech advances, although I think they were on the conservative side. But the stories made me wonder.

In the first episode, The Body, insurance companies constantly monitor and test every individiual. One man fakes his mandatory screening to hide the fact that he got drunk at a party. He has a heart attack, and his insurance is cancelled so his heart can't be cloned and replaced. Enter the brave doctor who breaks the rules and arranges for him to get a new heart.

In the second episode, The City, a young boy's ex-hacker grandfather constantly tweaks the boys toys. The boy decides to tweak one a little further on his own and accidently launches a fifty-year old computer virus into the city computer grid which starts to fail. Despite the appalling computer design (centralized networks instead of distributed, fifty year old computer virus STILL dangerous to existing computers), the local police force launches a SWAT type search and destroy and the boy and his grandfather desperately try to fix things. The final confrontation ends with about a dozen laser sights trained on the boy and the grandfather before the police commander calls things off. Oh, and the police commander is the boy's mother and daughter to the grandfather, it was her access that allowed the virus to crash the system.

Notice that in both cases, there is a conformist near totalitarian society that can be severely disrupted by not following the rules, and the only way to fix things is for a "wiser" and compassionate individual to break the rules again.

Doesn't say a whole lot for the society of the future, or freedom.

All three episodes will be shown again on the Discovery Channel on March 3. I plan to tape number three and see if the collectivist culture is carried over. With a title like The World, what do you think?

Posted Thu - March 1, 2007 at 02:29 PM  

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Mon - December 25, 2006

"What's Making Money and What's Not"

Dirty Harry at LIBERTAS takes a look at the where the money goes this season.

The $35 million The Nativity Story — with no stars — has made more money than the $100 million Blood Diamond starring that supposed hot property Leo. The sentimental $24 million Rocky Balboa — starring a 60 year old who hasn’t had a hit in over a decade — handily beat the cynical Good Shepherd which stars the supposedly hot Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie.

Could the theme of these pictures have something to do with their success? Both Rocky and Nativity are made to uplift; to boost the human spirit. Diamond and Shepherd are designed to tell us our way of life and what we believe in are wrong. They’re designed to make us ashamed of our good selves.

Could the persona of those anchoring the picture have something to do with it? DiCaprio preaches from his mansion about the energy we use. Matt Damon tells us how to vote and criticizes America every chance he gets. Angelina Jolie… Well, where do I begin? However, I have no idea how Stallone votes but his pictures have never been shy about their patriotism. And no one associated with The Nativity has done anything other than simply try to make the best film they could.

I am not a conservative or a Christian, but I think Dirty Harry has a point here. There is a way to entertain and a way not to entertain. You can have a "message film" but still keep people's attention. The usual liberal rhetoric doesn't connect to people unless there is a story to tell and characters to care about. Nor does the usual conservative rhetoric for that matter. And libertarians tend to get WAY too wrapped up in the message.

I'm a movie buff. Movie freak would be closer to the mark. I am passionate when it comes to film. More important to me than anything else is what I call rewatchability. If I watch a film, will I want to see it again in a year?

We shape ourselves by the myths that we choose to embrace.

I don't mean "myths" as in untruths, I mean myths as defined in the works of Joseph Campbell.

At it's most simplistic, if the stories we follow say that the United States is a failure and liberty is a farce, then that is what we expect and that is what we work towards. But if we choose the stories that say that ordinary people become incredibly amazing when pushed to the limit and the good guys usually win, then we try to find ways to make that happen.

Yes I know it is corny. But it is also true.

There is another point though, and it is one that many of the Hollywood elites will never understand. People pay attention to contrasts. If a "stars" message is always one of doom and gloom both on and off screen, how will people know when to pay attention? George Burns used to say that people knew to laugh when he puffed on his cigar.

I'm not a real fan of "pretty boy" films. Many of the classic actors never would make it through the gates of a major studio today. Humphrey Bogart was not handsome by any stretch of imagination, but he was a character. His face looked lived in, not a mask maintained for the camera.

Stallone of the 1980s didn't have that. Stallone of the 2000s just might.

It's not the causes you embrace or the titles you collect that bring you respect. It's the life you live.

Getting back to one of my heros even if he wasn't a film star, Edward R. Murrow brought credibility to the news stories he covered, not the other way around.

The causes are nothing. The individual people who choose to be more, those are what is important. Those are the ones who make a difference. Those are the ones who dare to dream. Those are the ones who get up when they keep getting knocked down. Those are the ones who fail before they succeed.

Those are the ones who live life passionately.

Don't tell me the stories of a corrupt society, tell me the stories of the people who rose above that. Or at least tried very hard time and time again to rise above that. I can even take failure if it's a glorious failure.

Don't preach to me.

Inspire me.

Posted Mon - December 25, 2006 at 02:32 PM  

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Sun - December 24, 2006

BMOC - A book review

When I was reading Warren Myer's Coyote Blog, I saw that he had written a mystery, BMOC. Intriguing, Arizona libertarian and businessman, now novelist. That justified ordering it from Amazon.

This book does a fantastic job showing some actual extreme abuses from tort law, and a pretty good job revealing the incestuous relationship that can happen between tort lawyers, legislators, and the media. That alone will bring it kudos from the libertarian crowd, including me.

I loved two of the characters, Susan Hunter and Preston March. I'm a sucker for strong women, so I am always pleased to see a confident female character. And for Preston March, anyone who thinks outside the box gets my attention, especially if he is successful.

I was less enthusiastic about the LA cop. I've got nothing against smart characters, and I think the old Columbo-type routine of pretending to dumb to put the criminals off guard can be very effective. I know it works in business. My problem was that once he dropped the act, he came across as too perfect, physically, mentally, and emotionally. I'm also not quite sure why he started trusting Susan well enough to be himself around her, especially when he was investigating a murder.

The Mafia types came off as clichés.

The first thing that bothered me was some of the language. Not that it was offensive, just unusual. “Eschew” popped up twice in one chapter. That is a word I have seen maybe three times before in the last ten years, and never in a novel. I got the feeling that the old thesaurus program was working overtime. Some of the phrasing was a bit odd too.

But what really got me was the improbable situations that seemed like deus ex machina. Once or twice, maybe. It's bad though when one of the characters actually cites the Improbability Drive from Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy as a way to describe the story's events in LA. Things just seemed contrived. I kept wanting to feed the story into Dramatica Pro to fix it.

It was a fast read and an exciting read, at least until the first run on the beach. Some of Preston March's ideas aren't so far out, there could be money there.

If you overlook a couple of rough edges, BMOC is worth it.

Posted Sun - December 24, 2006 at 08:11 PM  

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Thu - December 21, 2006

Something you might like to read

There is an interview with one of my favorite authors L. Neil Smith here.

The man is a die hard libertarian (SMALL "l") and freedom activist from way back.

I love this quote.

Practically none. We're all a bunch of badminton birdies who just got batted from the Republican side of the court to the Democrat side. We'll eventually get batted back again, of course, unless libertarians can manage to do something about it. If your principal concern, like mine, is freedom, there's absolutely no discernable difference between the two "majors," and for all practical purposes, they're one big party -- the Boot On Your Neck party -- pretending to be two.

So go take a look already.

Posted Thu - December 21, 2006 at 05:04 PM  

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Sat - December 16, 2006

Kings of the High Frontier

I've about decided that there isn't a great American libertarian novel, But there are great American novels that have great libertarian ideas. One of my favorites, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, shows this perfectly.

Maybe it is because politics itself is confusing unless you are either a politico or a politics junkie. After all, a libertarian novel is going to talk about using the government to reduce the size of government. That makes things a bit jarring. Too many of the libertarian novels I have read get caught up in the speeches and debate that they lose sight of the story, plot, and characters.

Enter Kings of the High Frontier. And before you ask, yes, one of the characters is a descendent of Davy Crockett. You may now commence trying to get the song out of your head.

The characters in this novel are real with problems that aren't easily solved. The cold light of reason doesn't offer to solve all problems. Women characters actually have a reason to exist rather than being a sexual outlet for the leading man. There is sex, but it is touched on mainly in passing in a paragraph or two.

In the novel set in the not too distant future, all space travel is about to come under the jurisdiction of the United Nations, but there is a year before the new treaty takes effect. Several private groups decide that if they can get a space vehicle up before that deadline, there won't be much that the U.N. or the U.S. can do to stop them.

One of the groups is made up of renegade Russians desperate to reestablish Mir and reclaim the honor and glory of the Russian people. It plays better than it sounds.

One group is students from NYU determined to build and launch from the Bronx. Three billionaires each head up their own group. Two are mostly legit, and the third made his money by smuggling and working outside the law.

And then there are the villains. One is a private technocrat who has spent decades developing government and private contacts enough to subvert any space effort outside of NASA. He is a space advocate, but it's always twenty to thirty years away. He's also the author of the space treaty. He believes that space travel must remain under state control, tightly supervised by the elites.

The other villain is the head of a NSA black ops project to develop, build and fly a space interceptor capable of destroying any satellite.

And I haven't even mentioned the rape scene in the space shuttle and the lady's inventive response. Of course, since the rapist is a U.S. Senator, NASA and the government conspire to hide it.

Even if you aren't a science fiction fan, read this one. The characters are believable, the novel doesn't preach to you, and it makes you think.

Posted Sat - December 16, 2006 at 08:26 AM  

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Tue - November 21, 2006

Pipes reviews America Alone

Daniel Pipes reviews Mark Steyn's latest book.

The political columnist and cultural critic Mark Steyn has written a remarkable book, "America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It" (Regnery). He combines several virtues not commonly found together — humor, accurate reportage, and deep thinking — and then applies them to what is arguably the most consequential issue of our time: the Islamist threat to the West.

Mr. Steyn offers a devastating thesis but presents it in bits and pieces, so I shall pull it together here.

He begins with the legacy of two totalitarianisms. Traumatized by the electoral appeal of fascism, post-World War II European states were constructed in a top-down manner,"so as to insulate almost entirely the political class from populist pressures." As a result, the establishment has "come to regard the electorate as children."

Second, the Soviet menace during the Cold War prompted American leaders, impatient with Europe's (and Canada's) weak responses, effectively to take over their defense. This benign and far-sighted policy led to victory by 1991, but it also had the unintended and less salutary side effect of freeing up Europe's funds to build a welfare state. This welfare state had several malign implications.

As it happens, I've read America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It and here are the two concerns that I thought were most important.

First, American foreign policy over the last fifty years or so has produced nations who are incapable of looking out for their own defense. That leads to much of the resentment against American military and industrial strength.

Second, most of the major nations and cultures today have a declining birthrate that is well below replacement levels. Two major exceptions are Islam and the United States. Of the two concerns, this later is by far the most important.

But even in the United States, "some are more equal than others." James Taranto has called it the Roe Effect, basically that those who believe that abortion should be a right are less likely to produce offspring who share the same beliefs. I make no comment on the morality of abortion here, but if all other things are equal, I have to agree with Mr. Taranto. If a group believe that abortion is an acceptable option, they are more likely to use it and therefore will probably produce fewer children.

Unlike Mr. Steyn, I do not believe that we have passed the tipping point of no return. But I do think we are getting close.

It's a depressing book, but unfortunately accurate.

Posted Tue - November 21, 2006 at 12:46 PM  

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Sat - October 21, 2006

Something Positive

Just thought I would let you know, one of my favorite webcomix, Something Positive, is running what promises to be a pretty good October storyline. It starts here. The writing on S*P is consistently top notch (follow through for a couple of pages and you will see what I mean), and it has a strong following for some pretty good reasons.

Posted Sat - October 21, 2006 at 11:12 AM  

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Thu - September 7, 2006

ABC editing "The Path to 9/11" on demands from Clinton team?

Not sure where to put this one. I haven't seen the show yet, but this concerns me.

The story here is the backlash that the Disney/ABC execs experienced was completely unexpected and is what caused them to question themselves and make these changes at all. Had this been the Bush Admin pressuring, they wouldn't have even taken the call. The execs and studio bosses are dyed in the wool liberals and huge supporters of Clinton and the Democratic Party in general. They had no idea any of this could happen. As I understand this, the lawyers and production team spent literally months corroborating every story point down to the sentence. The fact that they were the attacked and vilified by their "own team" took them completely by surprise; this is the first time they've been labeled right-wing, conservative conspiracists.

The scramble caused by this backlash was so all consuming that the execs spent their holiday weekend behind closed door meetings and revamped their ad campaign. But at the end of their mad scramble, they found only a handful of changes they could make and still be true to the events. The changes are done only to appease the Clinton team - to be able to say they made changes. But the blame on the Clinton team is in the DNA of the project and could not be eradicated without pulling the entire show. A $40 million investment on the part of ABC is enough to stem even Bill Clinton's influence.

An exclamation point on this event is the fact that Oliver Stone will endorse the project this week. Not known for his conservative leanings, he loves the project. Perhaps this and the fact that the production company that made Al Gore's movie, "An Inconvenient Truth" are endorsing it would underline just how far out or touch and scared the Clinton Admin is about the revelation of the facts as portrayed in this project. Is it just that Clinton is continuing to re-define his legacy? Or is it his fears for this election cycle and 2008? Or both?

Hugh Hewitt is right about one thing. The real story is that ABC took flack for daring to criticize the Clinton Administration.

It's also the story that is going to be overlooked.

It's already beginning.

Top officials of the Clinton administration have launched a preemptive strike against an ABC-TV "docudrama," slated to air Sunday and Monday, that they say includes made-up scenes depicting them as undermining attempts to kill Osama bin Laden.

Former secretary of state Madeleine K. Albright called one scene involving her "false and defamatory." Former national security adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger said the film "flagrantly misrepresents my personal actions." And former White House aide Bruce R. Lindsey, who now heads the William J. Clinton Foundation, said: "It is unconscionable to mislead the American public about one of the most horrendous tragedies our country has ever known."

ABC's entertainment division said the six-hour movie, "The Path to 9/11," will say in a disclaimer that it is a "dramatization . . . not a documentary" and contains "fictionalized scenes." But the disclaimer also says the movie is based on the Sept. 11 commission's report, although that report contradicts several key scenes.

Berger said in an interview that ABC is "certainly trying to create the impression that this is realistic, but it's a fabrication."

I can't help but contrast this with the reaction from the Bush Administration in the wake of Fahrenheit 9/11.

The Bush Administration didn't issue press releases demanding that the film be re-edited or pulled entirely.

Yep, pulled.

You didn't hear about that one?

A furious Bill Clinton is warning ABC that its mini-series "The Path to 9/11" grossly misrepresents his pursuit of Osama bin Laden - and he is demanding the network "pull the drama" if changes aren't made.

Clinton pointedly refuted several fictionalized scenes that he claims insinuate he was too distracted by the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal to care about bin Laden and that a top adviser pulled the plug on CIA operatives who were just moments away from bagging the terror master, according to a letter to ABC boss Bob Iger obtained by The Post.

The former president also disputed the portrayal of then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright as having tipped off Pakistani officials that a strike was coming, giving bin Laden a chance to flee.

"The content of this drama is factually and incontrovertibly inaccurate and ABC has the duty to fully correct all errors or pull the drama entirely," the four-page letter said.

Here's the other thing that I noticed. Bill Clinton and his former staff members aren't disputing what happened, they are disputing who did it.

We know that there are unanswered questions about what the Clinton Administration did. I certainly don't expect this film to reveal any great truths. But I do expect people to start asking questions.

Posted Thu - September 7, 2006 at 04:59 AM  

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Sun - April 16, 2006

The Third Revolution (redo)

I've been disappointed with libertarian novels.

Somehow the heros always seem to be in perfect mastery of their emotions with deep reasoning skills. They're full of esoteric martial arts training and know enough about weapons to run their own armory. And of course their charisma and sexual powers are unquestioned.

Except life doesn't work that way. It's messy with all sorts of things left hanging. The good guy doesn't always get the perfect girl, or ANY woman, or even the perfect guy. There are times when even the soundest reasoning runs smack dab into the mob passions.

The Third Revolution by Anthony F. Lewis is different.

The hero is a governor who misses being a state legislator. He misses running his bar and restaurant even more. He doesn't recognize the influence that he has had on other people. In the novel when the Federal government decides to nationalize all functions of State governments, he feels that as governor there isn't a lot he can do.

Fortunately the maverick lawmakers that he has helped inspire don't feel that way.

This novel doesn't go the Rand route and bury you under endless discussions of political philosophy. The characters are practical above all.

And the buffalo. Ah yes, the buffalo.

It's obvious that the author intended the buffalo to be a metaphor for the power of individuals. Big, ponderous, and capable of thriving if only they are left mostly alone.

While the governor makes the right choice, it isn't the easy one. Dealing with the consequences without launching a full scale war, well, that is the mark of adults living in a civilized society.

Highly recommended.

Posted Sun - April 16, 2006 at 08:04 PM  

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The Force of Reason (redo)

One of the things that I use to choose which books I read is watching to see if the right people get mad.

That is how I discovered the English edition of Oriana Fallaci's The Rage and the Pride a few years ago. And now she follows it up with The Force of Reason.

This is an angry book. This is a book by a woman who is defying the accommodationists and proclaiming loudly that Western Civilization does have something unique to offer. This is a book that catalogues the attempts to have The Rage and the Pride suppressed.

That alone is a reason you should buy it.

Fallaci documents the arguments against her. Except they really aren't arguments, they are closer to "shut up and don't interfere!"

Regardless of your stand on the war on terror, you should ask yourself why certain people want to prevent Fallaci from being heard. I do agree that the Islamists are more interested in submission than negotiation. Until we deal with that, we can't meet them halfway. It's the only reason that I think the war on terror is necessary.

Posted at 07:55 PM  

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V for Vendetta book review (redo)

I finally had a chance to sit down and read V for Vendeta and I begin to understand why the movie may have taken the direction it did.

I still haven't seen the film.

The story in the book is brilliant. Graphic novels aren't my usual thing, but I am a science fiction fan. The book pays deliberate tribute to at least a dozen influential works in the genre, but maintains it's own voice and theme. Not an easy thing to do. I can see why people were raving about it.

At the same time, the graphic novel works on a couple of levels. While the criticism of an ultra-right wing government is very much in your face, in the background there is a subtle but still incredible strong criticism of a left wing government that would allow itself to be subverted.

I found some of the political assumptions to be naive. Too soon people forget that Nazi meant National Socialist Party. The hard Left can be every bit as dangerous and seductive as the hard Right.

V is an anarchist, not a libertarian. I don't think we are quite to the point where V found himself.

One of the things that surprised me was growth of Evey Hammond. Even today, it is remarkable to see strong female characters in science fiction, much less one that you can relate to. In her own way, she is more driven than V. As the story begins, she needs V, but he needs her to have the strength NOT to need him. That is an interesting twist on sacrifice that caps the entire story.

Additional Technorati Tags
V for Vendetta , anarchist books

Posted at 07:42 PM  

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Sun - December 25, 2005

The Encyclopedia War

What is really the difference between Wikipedia and Britannica? Not much.

The biggest lesson of the information age is that all media is to be taken with a critical eye, and that no information is valuable until you also understand its source. (One reason for the success of blogs: the information and the source are intimately related, so you always know where you are.)

A simple numerical comparison of error frequency in each source is meaningless unless it’s accompanied by some analysis of how they were wrong. What kind of errors were they, and how did they pass through each publication’s (formal or informal) safeguards?


This paragraph of the Nature article, which was reported as little more than a footnote to the numerical smackdown headlines, sums up the problems I have with Wikipedia. Coming across a Wikipedia article that is both well-written and clearly organised is a moment to be cherished, because it happens so rarely. Half the time I visit the site, I end up on the edit page saying “Right, I’m going to clean this bastard up”. Then I realise that this would consume forty-five minutes of my time that would be better spent elsewhere, and I wisely walk away.

But really, what have I lost? It was free, it was linked from Google, I got the information I wanted, it just wasn’t as cleanly presented, as “paper-white” as I could have got from a dead tree encyclopædia. Different media good for different things.

There are two points that Charles Miller makes here that I agree with. First, all media should be looked at critically. No one should get an automatic exemption because of their reputation. That may help explain the declining sales and stock prices of many major media companies.

Second, it is about tradeoffs. Parts of Wikipedia may be sloppily written, but it covers a great many more subjects than Brittanica and can be corrected faster. It took years to convince Encyclopedia Brittanica to rewrite their inaccurate article on witchcraft for example. But the the free market makes both possible.

You wouldn't try to race a dump truck against a Formula One racer. But a dump truck can carry loads that would be impossible to transport in a Formula One racer. Different tools for different jobs.

Posted Sun - December 25, 2005 at 05:12 AM  

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Thu - November 3, 2005

Hope - a review

Hope by Aaron Zelman and L. Neil Smith

I'm still looking for the great American libertarian novel.

This isn't it.

It's a great source of libertarian views, and the real life examples are accurate. The passion is there, the speeches are there, even the cheering section is there. What isn't there is a story.

As a novel, the best thing I can say about it is that it is contrived. Alexander Hope, the central character, is a widower billionaire industrialist turned history professor turned Presidential candidate. He basically wins the election (with the lowest turnout in history) because the Republican candidate is arrested on child porn charges and the Democratic candidate (based on a certain female Senator from New York although never actually named) is killed in a car accident.

And I haven't even mentioned the cute infobabe yet. The authors name for it, not mine.

The speeches are great, the reasoning is good, the philosophy is outstanding. But the characters and plot need a lot of work.

Posted Thu - November 3, 2005 at 10:37 PM  

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Fri - October 7, 2005

The Black Arrow - a review

The Black Arrow by Vin Suprynowicz

After a very promising start, this novel loses it's way about two thirds of the way through.

I really had high hopes for this one as "the" libertarian novel.

It's set in a future New York (sometimes called New York but mostly called Gotham) where a resistance movement is working against an oppressive government. Much of the Western United States has rebelled against New Washington, and the United States loses more territory each day. Towards the end, the characters become caricatures .

If you are looking for a good libertarian novel, look for The Moon is a Harsh Mistress or The Probability Broach. If you can find it, The LaNague Chronicles by F. Paul Wilson does a better job of telling a story of a revolution.

Posted Fri - October 7, 2005 at 06:44 PM  

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Sun - July 17, 2005

What the Bleep Do We Know?

I just finished hosting a small get together to show What The Bleep Do We Know? (available here at Amazon). I've seldom seen a film that divided people more radically. Love it or hate it, there seems to be no middle ground. It made for a great discussion afterwards.

The film has two parts intertwined, a narrative that follows Marlee Matlin's character as she comes to terms with some of the junk in her life, and a collection of experts applying science, philosophy, and mysticism to life and perception.

Yes, it is complicated. Yes, it makes you think. No, it is not one of those films you can only give half your attention.

This time around I was watching the other people. A few reactions surprised me. One of the people I thought would be offended actually got it in the first couple of minutes. Some of the more "open minded" locked down their attitudes pretty quickly and just became more rigid through the night.

All I am really going to tell you about the film itself is that I enjoyed it. Like a lot of controversy, I think it's better to let people experience it and judge for themselves.

Of course, that is sort of what the film is about...

Posted Sun - July 17, 2005 at 11:41 PM  

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Sat - July 9, 2005

God Against the Gods

I've been re-reading Jonathan Kirsch's excellent God Against the Gods and a few things keep popping into my mind.

First, the whole idea that there HAS to be a war between belief systems grows directly from the assumption that someone exclusive access to the one and only truth and has a Divine sanction to force that truth on everyone else.

Second is the reminder that the early Christians in Nero's Rome were not persecuted for their faith, but rather their intolerance of other faiths and their failure to acknowledge the state religions. If ever there was an overwhelming historical argument against mixing church and state, that is it. And ironically, it dates from the earliest days of Christianity as an organized faith

Third is the point that while polytheists tend to accept monotheists, the more fanatic monotheists will never accept polytheists as long as there is the slightest chance the polytheists can be destroyed. And of course that intolerance extends to other monotheists who do not follow the "true way."

All in all, a great book, especially in it's portrayal of Julian, one of my personal heros.

To me, it's fascinating how Julian is usually portrayed, even though he exemplifies a devout believer. He was raised in a faith which he couldn't accept, he sought out and mastered the "true faith," and then championed his beliefs in war and statecraft. When he became Emperor, he didn't destroy the Christians, he just reduced Christianity to what it had been during Constantine's reign, one faith among many. If Julian had been raised as a pagan and championed Christianity in a similar way, he would be called a saint today.

God Against the Gods doesn't really have an agenda, unless it is undemonizing the polytheists of the ancient and classical ages. When we in the U.S. are facing fanatic monotheists domestically and internationally, this book helps put everything in perspective.

Posted Sat - July 9, 2005 at 06:04 PM  

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Sun - June 5, 2005

A great economist you've never heard of

In the U.S. we have a "not invented here attitude." Even though we give credit to all the dead great thinkers, we forget there are people from other nations with first class minds.

In all the time I've been a libertarian, with everything I had read, and everyone I had talked to, I somehow missed one of the basics. I didn't learn it until after I read The Other Path by Hernando de Soto why free markets don't always work. One simple idea, and it explained exactly why Peru succeeded and Russia failed.

Property rights and the uniform rule of law.

That is the whole idea, and without it, no free market can work. The Other Path is the story of how Peru defeated the Shining Path using the rule of law, free markets, and people making their own choices.

With property rights and a clear system of recognizing those rights, people can borrow against their assets. Capital flows instead of being locked away. Think about it for just a minute. Someone wants to start a business. They own a house where they live. Without the ability to borrow against that, the only way they can use the value of the house is to sell it. Then they still need a place to live, which diminishes the money they get from selling the house. But if they borrow against the house, they can use that cash to fund a business. And they still have a place to live.

de Soto examines this further in another book, The Mystery of Capital. With the situation in the Middle East, these two books help show what can happen and what should happen. It's not enough to claim democracy, the rule of law must recognize the unique property rights of everyone.

de Soto works with The Institute for Liberty and Democracy in Peru. Besides promoting the classic liberal ideas of law and economics, the ILD has the added advantage of no government affiliation. And that helps minimize politics. They are a worthy cause.

*You know, I've waited years to steal that line from Gary Trudeau.

Posted Sun - June 5, 2005 at 05:04 AM  

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Wed - May 11, 2005


Freakonomics : A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything

by Steven D. Levitt and Stepen J. Dubner

I'll admit, the controversy attracted me to this book. If enough of the right people hate a book, that is usually proof that the book is work my time,

Levitt is one of the few economists I've ever read who looks at what is happening and the connections rather than starting from a theory and juggling what is reported. It almost restores my faith in economics as a science.

The most interesting connection he makes is between abortion and the fall of violent crime. I'm not entirely sure he makes his case, but at the very least his ideas should be considered in the abortion rights debate.

This book ISN'T the typical economics text, it's a set of human stories that Levitt explains using connections that most people wouldn't make.

Highly recommended.

Posted Wed - May 11, 2005 at 06:18 PM  

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Amazona Listmania

Although I have some Amazon Listmania lists, I created those mainly for newbie pagans who kept asking me for which books they should read.

I will be making some new lists, I just haven't had a chance to do it yet. Some of the new lists won't be pagan-themed and they will get links in the navigation bar on this site.

Don't worry, I'm not out to convert anybody. Those new lists will focus on history, politics, and business. I'll leave the sex and pagan rituals out.

Although given what happened during my Corporate Clone days, maybe I should leave the sex in...

Posted at 06:04 PM  

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