"Despite its utter folly and futility," wrote the great Mencken, "we still cling to the custom of exchanging Christmas presents, just as we cling absurdly to the stiff-bosomed shirt, the backless piano-stool, the novels of Charles Dickens, the loose rug…political oratory…and all the other lingering relics of an extinct and inferior civilization."
So it is with some sense of folly and futility that I offer my second annual list of gift-giving suggestions to help you shop for that lovable anti-statist in your life.
The best film nobody saw last year was Equilibrium, writer-director Kurt Wimmer's science fiction paean to freedom-fighters everywhere. When it was quietly released into a handful of theaters last Christmas, one critic charged the movie with being "brazenly pillaged from Fahrenheit 451, 1984, and Brave New World." Maybe so. But featuring terrific performances from Christian Bale (recently signed to play Hollywood's newest Batman), Emily Watson (Red Dragon), and Taye Diggs (Chicago), this movie uniquely mixes its smart dystopian story with extraordinary action sequences, making it an underground libertarian classic. Dimension Home Video's DVD release offers a brief "making of" documentary and entertaining feature-length commentary from director Wimmer and producer Lucas Foster. And the promotional slogan on the box is irresistible: "In A Future Where Freedom Is Outlawed, Outlaws Will Become Heroes."
The best TV series nobody saw last year was Firefly, which lasted 10 weeks on Fox before it was yanked by the same executives who later brought you Joe Millionaire. Created by Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Firefly was a rousing antidote to the old collectivist Star Trek universe. The series is set 500 years from now, shortly after a galaxy-wide civil war ends in victory for the totalitarian Alliance. Mal Reynolds, who fought as an Independent against unification of the planets, now captains a Firefly-class spaceship dubbed Serenity, and his motley crew includes a preacher, a prostitute, a soldier-of-fortune, a renegade doctor, and a young girl who was victim to mysterious government experiments. Their mission: to dodge Alliance authorities while earning a living smuggling illegal cargo and occasionally sheltering rebel fugitives. After watching just two episodes, I was captivated by Firefly's freedom philosophy, its clever writing, and its characters. And I was humming its catchy theme song: "Take my love, take my land, take me where I cannot stand. But I don't care…I'm still free. You can't take the skies from me…"
Any TV series cancelled midseason usually disappears without notice. Firefly seems an exception. Several websites dedicated to the show have sprung up. Whedon is contemplating a movie based on the show. But best of all right now, Twentieth Century Fox Home Video is releasing the complete series of 13 episodes on DVD before Christmas. You heard me right. I said 13 episodes. The program ran only 10 weeks, but the four-disc set includes three unaired programs. This package also features commentary on more than half the shows, deleted scenes, a gag reel, three documentaries, auditions, and other extras.
Phil Ochs has been on my CD-changer continually since George W. rattled his first saber against Saddam. As an anti-war troubadour, Seeger and Dylan may have been there first, but Ochs always trumped 'em.
Call it u2018Peace' or call it u2018Treason,' Call it u2018Love' or call it u2018Reason,' But I ain't marchin' anymore.
There's a lot of Ochs available on CD, and every lick is worth buying. But for the sake of gift-giving, the best all-round compilation now available is There But For Fortune (Elektra/Asylum Records). Sure, it's missing some of Ochs' best work, but what's here is dynamite.
Listen for the sound and listen for the noise, Listen for the thunder of the marching boys, A few years ago their guns were only toys, Here comes the Big Parade…
Phil Ochs was no libertarian. But his stirring anthems against war, government oppression, empire, and even hypocrisies of the Left certainly qualified him as a valuable ally.
What's that I feel now beatin' in my heart? I've felt that beat before… Hey now, what's that I feel now beatin' in my heart? I feel it more and more…
It's the rumble of freedom callin', Climbin' up to the sky… It's the rumble of the old ways a' fallin'… You can feel it if you try…
When Phil Ochs died in 1976 at age 35, an extraordinary voice of protest was lost. We're lucky that so much of his music is still readily available.
Until some heroic soul gathers all of Murray Rothbard's journalism u2014 all of it, everything from Left and Right, Libertarian Forum, New Libertarian, New Individualist Review, Inquiry, etc. u2014 into a beautiful, fully indexed, umpteen-volume anthology, the best collection of his non-academic political and cultural essays remains The Irrepressible Rothbard (Center for Libertarian Studies, $29), edited by Lew Rockwell. This book offers Murray in his last years (199094), some might say his best years, skewering neoconservatives, Clinton liberals, gun-grabbers, imperialists, warmongers, and other statist riffraff. These essays all come from The Rothbard-Rockwell Report, a journal I still miss desperately, and I can't find a weak one in the bunch. They're biting, irascible, and always quotable. Of particular note are Murray's pieces on political strategy, which make up the book's first section, and his brilliant coverage of the 1991 Gulf War (remember that one?). Nine years after his death, Rothbard remains not just irrepressible. He's indispensable.
For the Second Amendment Devotee
All the gun-control geeks who mindlessly applauded Michael Moore's dishonest Bowling for Columbine should be duct-taped to metal folding chairs and forced to watch Innocents Betrayed, a powerful new DVD documentary produced by Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership (www.jpfo.org). Will this film change their minds? Well, if it doesn't make them squirm at some point, you can bet they're too far entrenched in their dogma for any sort of conversion.
In 58 minutes, Innocents Betrayed shows how, in the last century, civilian disarmament led to the slaughter of more than 100 million people at the hands of their own governments. Russia, Germany, Cambodia, Uganda…the numbers are staggering and the photos, the faces are heartbreaking. "It can't happen here," you say? Maybe Rosie O'Donnell believes that. After watching this documentary, most common-sense Americans won't. This may seem a grisly Christmas gift, but it's the perfect tool for that gun-rights activist in your family whose biggest challenge is getting his gun-toting pals to join the fight against gun-confiscation.
Have a happy shopping season.
November 27, 2003
Wally Conger [send him mail] is a marketing consultant and writer living on California's central coast. He has a website, www.WConger.com.