Monday, December 31, 2012

The Hell With 2012 Already

Paul supporters protesting at the GOP National Convention

I remember exactly where I was a year ago when the ball dropped to ring in 2012.  I was sitting in the common room of the lodge at the YMCA camp in Bluegrass, Iowa.  New Years itself was more boring than a Ben Stein lecture on hygiene, and I was incredibly pissed that a few pricks hadn’t invited me to go clubbing with them at the Iowa City college bars.  Even still, I was surrounded by the company of Matt Pagano, Cory Chenard, and a bunch of other good people.

We were all working together to usher in Ron Paul’s victory in the Iowa Republican Caucuses and start the momentum that would bring him victory after victory and then the Republican Party nomination for the Presidency.  2012 quickly brought us a major disappointment as we watched how Fox News was quickly able to hijack his leading momentum with propaganda.  January 3 was a disappointing night for us.  We’d worked incredibly hard and we were defeated.  What a way to start the year off!

I continued with school, work, and local activism.  In May I happened to meet one of the most beautiful people I’ll ever know—beautiful on the inside and out—who was able to change me for the better in just a short amount of time.  We dated, we decided we would be exclusive, and that the long distance wouldn’t deter us.  Perhaps she wasn’t ever serious about it.  Perhaps I was too naïve to expect large bumps in the road.  Maybe I even realized subconsciously that it wouldn’t work, but my desire to live in the idealized “Zach’s world” made me blindly overlook her faults.

Somewhere along the way our relationship turned from a mutually loving give-and-take experiment to my mission to rescue her from hard times.  I became her white knight, and in doing so I focused exclusively on solving her problems while allowing my own issues to pile up on the back burner.  The sons of bitches would eventually jump off the stove and catch up to me.

We’ve since gone our separate ways and now there is only a white knight standing alone in a field, sword and shield in hand but no one to rescue.  There are no townspeople calling for me in the distance.  Frankly, I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do.  For the first time in a while I’ve had ample free time to seriously think back on the last eight months.  I can be honest with myself about the mistakes I made, and even more honest in admitting exactly the ways she did me wrong.  Basically, every free pass I gave her when she screwed up was like Neville Chamberlain letting Hitler keep Czechoslovakia.  Then I was actually surprised when I got the blitzkrieg!  It’s a bitch, but hindsight’s always 20/20.

Frankly, there are two things I can carry with me and walk tall like a man.  First, I honestly tried my absolute best to make it work.  Hell, I even tried my best to get Ron Paul elected, but that didn’t work either.  To top it all off, every single other liberty candidate I worked hard for and campaigned for individually got their asses handed to them, thanks to gerrymandering.  Damn!

There are just times when you lose and the outcome is beyond your control.  But damn it, I did my best and I have no regrets!  I worked hard for what I believe in.  Furthermore, I was able to love a human being unconditionally.  Every time she said “I love you back” I knew I was looking into the face of God.  I wouldn’t trade that experience for all the gold in the world.

Some of you reading this may ask, “Why the hell is he sharing this with everybody?”  The answer is simple.  I figure if I can be completely honest with the world, then I can be completely honest with myself and not make the same mistakes, neither in political work, the workplace, nor—especially—in my personal life.

It’s hard to deal with, but all the while I’ve stayed completely away from the bottle.  These are the kinds of disappointments I would have got wasted over just a few months ago.  But booze doesn’t make problems go away; it only makes you forget for a few hours, and then those problems come back tenfold in the morning.  The hell with that; I’m not drinking.

So here I am, sitting at a computer in southern California, with not even a vague idea of what the future holds.  I’m staying away from booze, hitting the books on Austrian economics and libertarian theory, getting back to the Bible, and going back to church.  These aren’t New Year’s resolutions; they’re already part of my new routine.  Better yet, I’ve been going on incredibly long hikes to feel empowered, and I’ve also been getting more creative with my writing and also in the kitchen. 

It’s incredibly satisfying to feel both empowered and creative.  I would recommend this in a heartbeat to other people in the liberty movement.  Too many of us waste lots of time behind a computer screen, either toiling away over a lengthy economic treatise that four people will glance at or endlessly reposting on Facebook some link exposing Monsanto.  Pretty soon my buddy Havoc and I will do a straight twenty-mile hike beginning at my doorstep and ending in Mt. Baldy Village.  How excited I am!

One thing I can proclaim is “The hell with 2012 already!”  Honestly, I’m over this year.  I learned a lot and grew a lot.  Ron Paul will always be my President and a young lady from Indiana knows I’ll always love her with all my heart, but it’s time for everyone to move forward.  Dwelling in the past is dangerous; Jay Gatsby tried it and it got him killed.

There’s a lot of work to be done in 2013.  People in the liberty movement need to learn to walk away from Facebook and do some real activism for real liberty candidates.  We also need to soften our rhetoric so our ideas can appeal to non-libertarians, especially neoconservatives and disillusioned Democrats.  2014 and 2016 will soon be upon us.  Most importantly, we all need to look inside ourselves, be honest with ourselves, and takes steps to improve ourselves as human beings.

I’ll tell you what though, if Rick Santorum runs for President again, I’m just going to mail giant sad face posters to everyone who endorses him.  Honestly, were it not for Ani DeGroot’s hard work, I would have lost complete faith in Iowa simply for the Santorum caucus victory. Double-you tee eff and never again!

2012 may not have been what we wanted it to be.  Just think of it as a rehearsal for better times.  I’d like to extend a big thank you to all my brothers and sisters in the liberty movement.

Happy New Year.

* * *

Ron Paul supporters photo courtesy of Jayel Aheram, used via CC BY 2.0 license.  "Knights" painting by Viktor Vasnetsov is in the public domain.  Both images wre obtained from Wikimedia Commons.  Rand Paul 2016 artwork courtesy of Iowa News Liter blog with no rights given or implied.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Elephant in the Living Room: The Atlas Shrugged Movies

I’d briefly like to address the giant elephant in the living room that no one dares talk about: the Atlas Shrugged movies.  Frankly, I will admit that I did enjoy both movies.  However, this enjoyment came mainly because of three primary reasons:

·         I love the novel and also understood that both movies were low-budget indie flicks, so I had both context and an open mind
·         I helped promote both films, especially the second one, even at my own financial cost, therefore I was emotionally invested in psychologically convincing myself that I enjoyed them both
·         I honestly wouldn’t mind playing Seven Minutes in Heaven with either Taylor Schilling or Samantha Mathis.  [Ah, the things I missed out on in high school…]

He wishes!
While I enjoyed both films, I really have to admit that they were both mediocre.  Yes, I said it, get over it already.  You have greater things to worry about than my opinions, such as your significant other cheating on you, or your total lack of a significant other…  [No, I will not give you ice for that burn; quit being a socialist and buy it yourself with one of your John Galt gold dollars.]

Anyway, I stand by my statement on the films, so before any crackhead libertarian or angry objectivist gets mad at me, I fully believe we as liberty activists owe it to the great Ayn Rand to see that only the best adaptations of her prolific works are made.  Do you dare defend crappy mediums for communicating some of the most important ideas in modern history???  Didn’t think so.

Even if I forget about the soul-crushing cameo of Sean Hannity—a double standard-bearing neoconservative ideologue—in the adaptation of one of the greatest libertarian works ever written, there are two glaring problems with both movies.

First, changing the cast was lame and a half. Even though I probably would be inclined to run off to Vegas with Samantha Mathis and be married by an Elvis impersonator minister at a drive-thru wedding chapel, I still have to stick to my standards, even if it means no Vegas wedding.  Sorry Sam!  The producers should have just stuck with the same cast from Part I and simply put a gun to their heads to command better performances.  Switching faces only confused and alienated potential libertarians.  I get the argument about making Part II able to stand alone as a film, but the very fact that its part number is anything other than “1” fully undermines that cute notion.

Second, and most importantly, the length of time is a problem.  I understand the constraints of a low budget and blah-blah-blah, but some of the greatest movie classics have been made on shoestring budgets (Clerks, American Graffiti, Rocky, etc.).  Besides, the entire saga takes place in a business office, on a railroad track, and on a mountain in Colorado.  Not the costliest of venues!

The budget issue is no longer an excuse, especially with Part II having a larger budget.  Because of the length of the novel (over 1,000 pages of minimal action and maximum philosophy), the movies need to be at least 2 hours and 40 minutes each.

The short length of both films meant that they had to cut short all the prolific speeches that define the characters and their objectivist philosophy.  The most important speeches cut brutally short were Francisco D’anconia’s “if you saw Atlas” soliloquy and Hank Rearden’s “I own it” testimony at his trial.  While I do feel that D’anconia’s speech in the movie at least captured the spirit of the book’s intent, the trial scene certainly did not.

The speeches themselves are well-written and propose excellent arguments, and it misses the point to edit them down to short sound bites.  Remember, these speeches by D’anconia, Galt, et all are what psychologically breaks the characters down and makes them check out of the society to which they desperately clung for so long.  The speeches need to be long, emotionally intense, and actually convincing to the audience!  And all the best quotes that could have been used in the movies are in the book already.  Imagine that!

Furthermore, Rearden’s on-screen speech was basically limited to “I built that, screw you.”  Uhh, negative, ceasefire!  What it needed to be was a lengthier and wordier version of the following points:

·         I scraped together the investment capital to start my business.  “The people” neither helped me muster it nor pay it back to the investors.
·         I directed the entire growth and expansion of the business.  It was my vision and leadership alone.
·         I did not force any one of my employees to work for me, nor did I force them to take their beginning salaries.  They freely and voluntarily agreed.
·         I paid for every piece of equipment and every hour of labor, not the government nor “the people.”
·         I and I alone dreamed of my metal and poured the capital and brain power into developing it.
·         When the economy began to tank, I never took a dime of bailout money from the government or “the people.”  I made it the entire way on my own money and my own ideas.  I did not have “help.”  I had employees who did exactly what I said and were well paid for it.  Only the moochers who received government money should be required to give anything to the government.
·         Furthermore, the government condemned my metal, my business, and I at every step of the way.
·         I’ve been right the whole time and you’ve all been wrong.  I will not turn over my property and ten years of time, money, and labor to those who did absolutely nothing.

Hell, even if he had just listed those bullet points in the movie and said nothing else, the scene would have been saved.  I myself would have applauded it!  Instead, it was simply Rearden arguing “It’s mine, mine, mine, I don’t have to give it up.”

Remember folks, just saying something that people—the left and most moderates/centrists—already disagree with will not make them suddenly agree with it.  It will only reinforce their notion that libertarians and conservatives are all heartless bastards.  However, explaining a libertarian idea with the above points might actually sway a few newcomers to our side.  Keep in mind, oh smug liberty intelligentsia, that the goal of our movement isn’t to be right about economics and generally be smarter than everyone; our goal is to get a majority of society to at least nominally agree with our ideas and to demonstrate such at the voting booths.

Atlas Shrugged Parts I and II could have been a medium for swaying the masses to our side, but unfortunately they were not.  However, there still is a chance for the producers to come up with a gem in Part III.  It needs to be long, it needs to be philosophical, and the speeches need to be emotionally intense and jarring.  No more short scenes, no more speeding through the plot, no more cutting corners, no more excuses.  And if Part III has another new cast, I will commence punching innocent bystanders on Santa Monica Boulevard in my frustration.

The innovation in Galt’s Gulch needs to be both impressive and understood, not just eye capitalist eye candy.  After being broken down into donating Rearden Metal to the government, Rearden’s encounter with Ragnar the pirate needs to be a tense scene that convinces the audience that the pirate is the one who’s morally correct, and that Rearden did the right thing in crossing the line by helping a fugitive escape from the police.  Furthermore, John Galt’s radio address could be one of the greatest movie speeches of all time.

Make the effort, Mr. Putch, Misters Sandefur, O’Toole, and Scott.  I have full faith in your ability to win an academy award for Ayn Rand’s epic masterpiece.  If you’re willing to take my criticism seriously, I’d even be more than happy to personally join you in this endeavor, working late into the night with you all in a writing office in order to make a cinematic masterpiece.

* * *

"I am John Galt" protestor photo by "HKDP" and used via CC BY-SA 3.0 license.
Atlas statue photo is in the public domain.
German monorail photo by "Stahlkocher" and used via CC BY-SA 3.0 license.
All three images were obtained via Wikimedia commons.

Some of you may ask, if I call myself a libertarian, how is it that I can justify punching random people on Santa Monica Boulevard (or anywhere in the world)?  Elementary, my dear Watson!  Simply so: if the filmmakers want to slay Part III in the womb by giving the trilogy yet another fresh cast, then obviously the pillars of libertarian philosophy no longer matter since their desecration would become the norm.  The same would apply to the non-aggression principle.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

I’m a Fan of Kim Jong Un (UPDATED)

“We need to make the wall higher, Bruce Willis!  People are still trying to escape to North Korea.”  –President Obama to Willis’ Die Hard character

Kim Jong Un with fellow, though much older, KPA generals
Since the title of this rant has guaranteed that a great many conservatives and libertarians alike are extremely upset with me, allow me to clarify a key point.  I’m not actually a fan of the North Korean dictator.  After all, unlike his father and grandfather, he hasn’t done anything to impress me yet, like develop nuclear weapons, cause widespread famines, or invade South Korea.  Rather, I’m a big fan of the web series The Adventures of Kim Jong Un.  The boys and girls of College Humor really outdid themselves with this project!

There are fewer action sequences I’ll ever see that are more epic than the Supreme Leader morphing into a MIG jet, mounting a Pegasus, which itself is already riding a magic carpet with jet propulsion, and going full speed ahead to kick some capitalist ass.  Follow this up with the Marxist-Leninist dictator drawing his lightsaber-tipped broadsword and winning a showdown with his moonwalk skills.  Yes, that happened.  And it was awesome.

This satirical animated micro-series is freaking hilarious if you can understand the references.  Given that I make it a hobby to study Marxism and Marxist-Leninist doctrines, I tend to know a thing or two about North Korea. (Remember, xenophobic neoconservatives, the first rule of battle is to know your enemy.)

By the way, I’d like to give Bradley Martin a shout out for essentially educating me about the DPRK.  His epically long tome Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader contains everything you need to know (and a library of information you neither need to know nor care about) regarding North Korea and the Kim Dynasty.  Nonetheless, the book is superbly written and widely read by military officers and government officials who deal with Korean affairs.  If you’re a smug know-it-all like me and you want to be smarter than your world-savvy friends, check out the book.

The emergence of the Kim Jong Un comedy micro-series is not only joyful for easily entertained geeks like me, but also relevant to the times.  Not only is North Korean propaganda beyond over-the-top, it turns out the Onion article naming Kim Jong Un the Sexiest Man Alive for 2012 was taken seriously by China’s People’s Daily newspaper.

No, that wasn’t a joke.  The official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party was thrilled that their dictatorial ally was named Sexiest Man Alive by an American media outlet and they did full coverage of the event.  I kid you not.  Needless to say the article has since disappeared from existence, but it was fun while it lasted.  Golf clap for The Onion.

I highly recommend the micro-series to anyone who knows a thing or two about Asia who’s looking for a good laugh.  However, I must warn my fellow conservatives and libertarians alike: I’m certainly no fan of President Obama, but it will only annoy me if you try to align him with the North Korean dictator.  Seriously, Obama is not a Marxist-Leninist.  Like most liberals, he’s a Keynesian social-democrat with fleeting admiration for some of the lofty-sounding Marxist ideals.  There is a difference.

Frankly—and I hate to admit this—Bill Clinton of all people has a better record of rescuing people from North Korea than even James Bond.  Who knew?

I guess that means the filmmakers of Rand Paul Flix will have to help me top that achievement by establishing free trade and friendly and open relations with North Korea.  They can do it using a medium that Kim Jong Un, like his late father, has a weakness for: movies.  And what’s the one topic Americans and North Koreans agree on?  Fighting the Japanese in World War II.
No doubt the movie will win at film festivals everywhere

Yes, I can see these events coming into play, the North Korean economy greatly improving as the DPRK pulls a China and adopts a market economy, and I get the Nobel Peace Prize for conceptualizing and guiding the process that brought food and infrastructure to the beleaguered North Korean people.  Furthermore, the jointly produced American-North Korean WWII movie will win all the major Academy Awards, especially Best Picture, Best Foreign Language Film, and Best Actor (to Gerard Butler for playing Kim Il Sung the guerrilla).  I will also buy Kim Jong Un his first beer at the La Verne T Phillips.

Despite the many Oscars the peace-bringing movie will win, it couldn’t possibly be either more far-fetched or epic than the South Korean movie where North and South Korea unite and drop an atomic bomb on Japan in retaliation for colonization and World War II.  Talk about a movie that thinks outside the box.

Why do I never come up with the best ideas?

* * * ADDENDUM 4/10/2013 * * *

The entire world is consumed in the fury of news reports and commentary surrounding Kim Jong Un and the escapades of the North Korean government.  Frankly, my favorite part of the media fury has been the slew of hilarious meems on the internet making fun of the Boy General.  My two favorite so far have been the news still with the headline “France surrenders to North Korea”—face it, they had it coming—and the one where the guy from the Snickers commercial hands the cranky warmongering Kim Jong Un a Snickers bar and the sugar rush turns General Kim back into his happy self: PSY the singer of “Gangnam Style.”

Many news heads and other idiots of the televised blathering class have been incredibly worried about North Korea’s saber rattling.  They’ve even gone so far as to speculate on how crazy Kim Jong Un is.  This is where I have to blatantly disagree with them.  Keep in mind this is by no means the first time North Korea has engaged in extensive saber rattling.  In the late 1960s Kim Il Sung took advantage of the burdensome American commitment in Vietnam to try to start a second Korean War, this time by infiltrating South Korea with thousands of Communist guerrillas and sleeper cell agents.  In 1976, KPA soldiers with axes murdered two American officers trimming a tree on the DMZ.  There were numerous skirmishes on the border once Kim Jong Il took power in the mid-90s.  Finally, there has been more violence along the 38th parallel since Kim the Third took office.  Those who read the “news” reports from KCNA

For decades political commentators have discussed how crazy the Kims are.  They are mistaken.  Kim Jong Un is not crazy; he, like his predecessors, knows exactly what North Korea can get away with.  Also like his predecessors, Jong Un is pushing the envelope to see how far he can stretch the limits.  Best of all, the entire world is freaking out and helping him ACCOMPLISH his objective: fear and the natural respect that results from fear of nuclear war.  This isn’t respect that comes with admiration, but rather the respect that comes with the idea that the gunman with the hostage might shoot, choosing instead to negotiate with him.

Since its inception in 1948 the North Korean regime has had three main goals:
1.      Preserve the Kim Dynasty
2.      Preserve the Communist regime of the Korean Workers Party
3.      Extort or force a bargain for aid and other allowances for North Korea
(Number 4 is to reunify the two Koreas under Communism, if they ever get around to it.)

So far Kim Jong Un knows he can get away with sinking a South Korean navy vessel, a few border attacks, and resuming the nuclear program.  Despite his rhetoric to rain down fiery death on Seoul, he will never do so.  He knows fully well that the South has more advanced armaments than he does, and that a single nuclear attack or military assault on the South will bring the superior firepower of the South, the United States, and the western world down on his country.  Pyongyang will be red, not with Communist flags, but with the blood of Communist martyrs who died in vain.

Instead of sanctioning the North Koreans—a course of action which will only starve hundreds of thousands of innocent North Korean civilians just trying to live out their daily lives—the U.S. should take a leadership role in normalizing relations with the DPRK.  Hell, if Dennis Rodman could go to Pyongyang and talk basketball with the Boy General, then why can’t Hollywood directors, numerous sports legends, Boy Scouts, college professors, and civil engineers be allowed to do the same with their North Korean counterparts?

The best way to normalize relations with a thug regime like the North’s would be through trade and displays of friendship.  Consider our relationship today with China.  More American soldiers died by the hands of Chinese People’s Volunteer Army soldiers by a mile than by North Korean troops, yet we have normalized relations with China today.  Despite the periodic shadiness engaged in by the Chinese Communist Party, Americans and Chinese are getting along great as individuals.  For starters, there are hundreds of Chinese exchange students at my college (and the women are beautiful).  If there was one accomplishment for which I could truly credit President Obama in the years to come—and I’m certainly not a fan of his—it’s to do with North Korea in 2013 what Richard Nixon did with China in 1972.

Let’s not give in to Kim Jong Un’s saber rattling and martial talk.  Let’s just approach the North Korean government and say, “Look, enough of this crap.  Your people are starving, your military equipment is fifty years old, and Lord knows how much longer you’ll be able to keep up this charade.  Keep up the personality cult, the Communist rhetoric, and all the other crap; we don’t care.  But let’s cut the martial crap.  Let’s exchange embassies, and let some of our firms do business with you.

“Let some of our people come visit as tourists so they can spend money you badly need.  If you want our college commies to come as exchange students, you can have them; we sure as hell don’t want them.  Hell, I’m sure every conservative and libertarian in America will be more than willing to pledge $20 to the Move UC Berkeley to Pyongyang Fund.  So let’s drop the hostilities and just be friends.  Besides, you guys haven’t lived until you’ve tasted McDonald’s Big Macs and Coca-Cola.  You’ll love them.  Just ask China!”
An American grunt examining the body of an enemy soldier who died while reading an American magazine

I do believe peace is possible.  Frankly, I’d rather establish good relations with North Korea over decades of peace and free trade than to liberate the North through a Second Korean War that will kill another 50,000 GIs and 2.5 million North Koreans—just like the first go-around—and a long rebuilding process our broke-ass country can’t afford.

One final note: there’s now a fourth episode of The Adventures of Kim Jong Un where the Boy General faces off against PSY to reclaim his rightful credit for “Gangnam Style.”  Best. Web series.  Ever.

* * *

Kim Jong Un photo still by KCTV and obtained from the International Political Review.
Film festival leaves graphic by Meme Center and is their property, displayed on this blog according to Fair Use law.