Monthly Archives: August 2016

Escape from New York (1981)

Escape from New York is a longtime personal favorite and, in my opinion, one of the greatest movies ever. I’m both amazed and gratified by how durable the editorial remains.

For example: 

  1. The police state is indistinguishable from the military.
  2. The police kill with impunity.
  3. The president is a narcissistic figurehead who is relying on a pre-recorded speech on which world peace presumably depends.
  4. The hero is ex-military and now a convicted felon and is the person best suited to infiltrate a prison and mete out the brutality necessary to fulfill the rescue.
  5. The cops have all the best weapons. Everyone assumes automatically that Snake’s possession of firearms means that he’s working for the government.
  6. Snake is carrying out the rescue mission not voluntarily, but because his life is being threatened.  
  7. The hierarchy of violent goons in the prison is indistinguishable from the hierarchy of violent goons guarding the prison. 

And perhaps most importantly, when Snake asks the president how he feels about all the individuals who gave their lives to rescue his, he mutters some half-hearted bullshit about how the “nation appreciates their sacrifice”.

Absolutely essential.

Ben Mezrich: Once Upon a Time in Russia

Once Upon a Time in Russia is Ben Mezrich’s highly entertaining and informative account of the rise of the so-called Russian oligarchs who accumulated power after the collapse of the USSR. The allusion to the American Wild West is intentional since the period chronicled was nothing short of a seismic shift in Russian society. The story centers around the ascent of two of Russia’s most ambitious oligarchs, Boris Berezovsky and Roman Abramovich, and the complex web of power they wove in order to attain their respective positions. Within this sticky mass are dueling loyalties, inverted moral expectations, and internecine turf wars within and without the government. The book is refreshing because it opens a window of insight into the rise of private industrialists in a country which was (is) highly secretive and outlawed private industry for decades. Though it was certainly not as bloody and repressive as the Bolshevik regime, it was a period filled with plenty of violence and political intrigue in its own right.  Like Mezrich’s other novels, Once Upon a Time in Russia was culled from exclusive firsthand accounts of events, but it reads like a hardboiled political thriller/gangland novel.   

Imagine being an entrepreneur attempting to obtain some semblance of security for commerce and property rights after living under the bootheel of a corrupt kleptocracy which terrorized its own population for 70 years and you get a small sense of the challenges these men faced. Some people are likely to view the oligarchs as the corrupt gangsters who destabilized and terrorized, but in my estimation, this book paints a more nuanced picture. The new, quasi-liberal order in Russia was very fragile, and the only way they could push back against the resurgent Communist Party was buy patronage from the the Yeltsin government. 

You know you’re in for a juicy tale right off the bat. The book opens with a meeting of the oligarchs hosted by Vladimir Putin at none other than Joseph Stalin’s Moscow dacha.  Dashing all hopes that they had just bought themselves a yes-man, freshly installed president, Vladimir Putin, chose an appropriate venue to send the message that the oligarchs were subordinate to the Russian government. Not vice versa.

The story kicks into gear by taking us back to the beginning of Berezovsky’s story.  An assassination attempt on Berezovsky leaves him badly burned, his driver dead and his car a bombed out slag heap. Since he couldn’t get any business done without security, he enlisted the services of FSB agent, Alexander Litvinenko, and became what’s known in Russia as a krysha or “roof”. Taking private money under the table for security work was considered illegal, but given the porous nature of the state institutions in the early days of the newly liberalized Russian Republic, people were often willing to look the other way.

With Abramovich’s partnership and protection from Litvinenko, the two oligarchs set out to consolidate ownership of aluminum, oil, and most importantly, television. The remainder of the story weaves its way through the Yeltsin and Putin regimes as the oligarchs compete for political influence in the new and very tenuous capitalist order. It’s a race for survival and economic power, but the fate of the recently freed Russian economy hangs in the balance.  

As Berezovsky’s influence grew, his ties to Litvinenko came under scrutiny of the bureaucrats in the FSB who had ties to his political enemies and commercial rivals.  Litvinenko was ultimately given an order to execute Berezovsky, but couldn’t betray his trust or patronage.  Berezovsky used his growing influence to unseat the director of the FSB and replace him with an individual he believed to be a reliable yes-man: Vladimir Putin.  How much they had to learn about this former KGB administrator.

After Putin’s election, Berezovsky grew frustrated by his betrayal, and used his own influence in the Russian television station, ORT, to undermine public confidence in Putin. Berezovsky shamelessly exploited the Kursk submarine incident and attempted to make a random military accident a referendum on Putin’s leadership. This overt act of vindictiveness and dissidence forced Putin’s hand resulting in Berezovsky selling his shares in ORT and being exiled from his home country.   

Berezovsky’s antagonism towards the Putin regime threatened the stability of Abramovich’s active interests in oil and aluminum in Russia which sets the former krysha/protege relationship on a collision course.  The escalating tensions between these former business associates culminates in a civil suit over Berezovsky’s claim on assets accumulated during the active years of their partnership. 

Mezrich’s narrative seems to stick to the facts, but he compromises his own objectivity when describing the failing Communist regime as “right-wing”.  Communism is an ideology long associated with the political Left, and the Soviet Republic was, in fact, Marxist doctrine taken to its logical conclusion.  Throughout the book, he refers to Communist hardliners as “conservatives” while describing capitalist reformers as being for “democracy”.  Besides the fact that it distorts the historical legacy of European classical liberalism (and American constitutional conservatism by extension), he’s feeding the standard Right/Left false dichotomy of American politics which places the Left on the side of virtue, reason and decency and the Right on the side of authoritarianism, thuggery and resistance to change. Lenin believed in democracy, too, and it ultimately amounted to nothing. Democracy and economic freedom do not necessarily go hand in hand, and the American Left have more and more in common with the Bolsheviks with each passing election cycle as Bernie Sanders’ campaign amply attests.

Though it’s a minor detail, Mezrich also betrays his bias in his passing mention of Litvinenko’s conversion to Islam and apparent sympathy towards the Chechen Muslim separatists.  Litvinenko’s story certainly wasn’t the focus of the novel, but given the ever increasing prevalence of Islamic terrorism as well as the intensified focus on the connection between Islamic belief and acts of terror, Mezrich missed an opportunity to anchor this story more firmly into the debates of the present.  

Minor flaws notwithstanding, Once Upon a Time in Russia is an entertaining read which shines a light on a slice of history which, like Russian Communism itself, remains largely unknown to America and the West. Highly recommended.

The Green Inferno (2013)

When a film stirs controversy, you must first consider who’s pissed off by it or trying to manufacture the illusion that their film is stirring controversy. Broadly speaking, you can tell which films are truly subversive based on whether they affirm establishment narratives or defy them.  For example, in the case of the Ghostbusters remake, it was patently obvious that establishment media went out of its way to portray criticism of the film as irrational, hate filled backlash instead of reasonable people who saw it as another lazy, opportunistic exercise in social justice revisionism desperately trying to be edgy gender swapping. On the other hand, if the criticism is directed towards the film itself and includes accusations of “racism”, “sexism” or “misogyny”, chances are good that it’s pissing off the right people and is probably genuinely subversive in one way or another. The Green Inferno is most definitely in the latter category and is a giant middle finger held gleefully aloft at the current trend toward Hollywood social justice activism and political correctness. 

Most films made these days have a political editorial of one form or another, and anyone who thinks that horror is just pure exploitation isn’t giving the genre enough credit. Horror has the potential to deliver a biting commentary that other genres can’t touch, and The Green Inferno is one of the finest exemplars of this phenomenon. Needless to say, the entire film is a giant piss take on social justice activism and social justice warriors, but it succeeds so brilliantly because it attends to the twin mandates of good filmmaking: tell a good story and respect the tradition to which your film belongs. 

The Green Inferno is a variant of the cannibal-horror genre which tells the story of social justice activists who set out to save a Peruvian tribe and things go horribly wrong. Horribly, terribly wrong. It undoubtedly draws inspiration from films like Cannibal Holocaust, but the fun of The Green Inferno is all in the setup and the ultimate payoff. 

The victims in horror films in the slasher genre meet their inevitable demise at the hands of the killer generally for exhibiting an excess of stupidity, hubris, or naïveté. This simple storytelling hook can give the filmmaker ample opportunity to comment on any social or political phenomenon he pleases. In this film, Eli Roth uses this device to maximum effect.  

When the film opens, we are introduced to college student protagonists, Justine and Kaycee.  After leaving a class where they are horrified to discover female genital mutilation practices in African and Middle Eastern countries, the roommates pass by a group of social justice warriors agitating for free health insurance. From the thrift store garments to the dumb slogans to the mindless fist pumping chants, Roth invokes the stereotypical AnCom/Bernie Sanders/OWS/Greenpeace leftist douchebag perfectly. Justine catches the eye of charismatic leader, Alejandro, but Kaycee snaps her out of her hypnosis and warns her not to get involved with guys like him.  They leave the scene of the protest with Kaycee contemptuously pronouncing the activists “gay”. 

Justine receives an invitation to join the activists from one of Alejandro’s amiable but vacant underlings who hands her a flyer which appropriately reads “ACT! Don’t think”.  Justine attends the meeting, but is immediately expelled for the insolent microaggression of speaking out of turn and triggering everyone in the group. She is eventually invited back because Alejandro is intent on working his faux-Che Guevara routine all the way into her pants. In the second meeting, Alejandro sets up the gambit. Go to Peru, prevent the evil corporation from destroying the habitat and indigenous tribe by strapping themselves to bulldozers, transmit the incident to social media, attract global sympathy and government support, and everyone goes down in #hxstory. Justine is sold. She ignores the warnings of her bigwig UN lawyer father after taking his money, and joins her merry band of SJWs on the flight to the rainforests of Peru to Change the World®. 

Roth smuggles in little pieces of editorial at unexpected moments. When discussing the details of their plans, Alejandro reminds them that the militia protecting the company assets will be armed.  One of the activists suggests that they get their own guns so they can protect themselves. In a typical leftist fashion, Alejandro torpedoes the idea and says that their cellphones will save them and if any one of them is greased, then they’ll just have to kill all of them. Ain’t collectivism grand, proles?  

The activists pull off their little stunt, but Justine barely escapes with her life after she’s threatened at gunpoint by one of the militia. Justine is appalled to learn that Alejandro was willing to allow her to die if it came down it. He confesses that he didn’t really give a shit about the cause or the tribe, and that they were just paid by a competing firm to give the company bad press. Hello, George Soros and MoveOn.org. The activists are basking in the glory of their social media fame when the plane’s engine sputters and begins plummeting into the jungle. The crash sequence is brilliantly executed and truly harrowing. The pilot is impaled in the skull, the cabin splits in half and dumps half of the passengers on to the jungle floor.  Once on the ground, they think things can’t get worse, but soon discover that their troubles have only just begun. The remaining activists are tranquilized by blow darts and imprisoned by the indigenous tribe they set out to save in the first place.  

This is where the film kicks into overdrive. Roth takes obvious pleasure in violating PC taboos and doesn’t pass up a single opportunity.  The biggest of which was the casting of the indigenous tribe themselves. You won’t have to search too hard to find some irritating Puritan bitching about “racism” or some other comparably idiotic whinging. This casting choice is a masterstroke and lends the film a feeling of authenticity that makes the film truly terrifying. The tribe wastes no time picking out their first victim, and they choose the poor bastard who brought Justine into the fold. It’s some brutal shit. I realize there’s plenty of gruesome stuff out there these days, but this is a pretty rough scene.  

And it doesn’t stop after the butchery is over. The tribe then prepares the human parts for a tribal feast!  It’s disgusting, but utterly outrageous all at once. 

Roth doesn’t limit himself to grand guignol; he pushes the boundaries of gender correctness, too. In another scene, the female leader of the tribe inserts a giant talon up the vagina of each of the female captives to test for virginity. He draws out the tension by allowing you to experience how terrified each of the women are.  That’s right. Women expressing actual fear. It’s exactly the kind of scene that’s drawn the ire of feminists and culture cops for years, but the thing the Puritans fail to grasp is that seeing a woman fear for her life is, in fact, horrifying. And it’s especially transgressive when the contemporary orthodoxy mandates that women be portrayed as physically stronger, smarter, and more capable than men.

The remainder of the film is a race for survival and ends with an unexpected twist which hints at the possible beginning of a franchise. 

The Green Inferno is a nasty little horror film that achieves exactly what it should by mixing a genuinely scary premise with black humor and attitude to spare. It’s not completely out of line to point out that there are echoes of Herzog here as well. The jungle itself is very much a character in the film and there’s little doubt that Roth and company were cribbing from Aguirre and Fitzcarraldo just as much as Cannibal Holocaust. Roth and company achieved their ambitions with this film.  He deserves credit for his ambition and for being unafraid to piss off people who deserve every bit of ridicule he dishes. 

Yuri N. Maltsev: Requiem for Marx

Despite the epic failures of socialism throughout the world, the Left throughout the West has held fast to its perverse and irrational idolatry of the philosophy of Karl Marx.  In America, The Communist Manifesto is the most widely taught economics text in university.  The bookstores of the most elite and prosperous communities are stocked with copies of Das Kapital. Media elites openly trumpet socialism and socialist regimes in major publications without remorse. Socialists now unironically wave banners of Stalin and Soviet flags in public parades and protest rallies. But no matter how spectacularly socialism fails, the Left have mastered the art of apologia when it comes to the writings of Marx. Somehow these failures cannot be attributed to Marxist doctrine. They are handwaved away as merely the unfortunate consequences of bad actors who either misapplied principles or were just despotic malefactors to begin with. Socialists contend either that socialism has never been properly attempted or hold up the welfare states of Scandinavian countries as model societies to which to aspire with no regard for history or market economics. Even worse, Marx’ analysis of capitalism continues to be accorded unwarranted deference, and his quasi-religious promises of earthly plenitude and social harmony continue to hold sway in the consciousness of the Left.

Whatever the reasons for the maddening endurance of this doctrine, what is needed is a stern and thorough repudiation of Marxist doctrine in the court of public opinion.  Preferably, before its adherents do any more damage than they already have done. 

Though others have set out to stamp out the mental cancer of Marxism, there is perhaps no refutation more definitive than Requiem for Marx. Edited and prefaced by former Soviet economist, Yuri N. Maltsev, Requiem for Marx sets out to disassemble and dismantle Marxism root and branch. Comprised of essays by the most notable thinkers in the Austrian tradition, Requiem for Marx lays waste to every facet of this toxic, but seductive ideology. 

Mr. Maltsev’s introduction all by itself should be sufficient to disabuse the average Occupy Wall Street proponent of any fascination with socialism, but it is merely a prelude to the battering ram of truth which follows.  Maltsev describes being indoctrinated to accept Marxist principles from a very early age up to the massive abuses, widespread corruption, indifference, repression and deception he witnessed from within the highest echelons of the Gorbachev regime. While Gorbachev enjoys a reputation in the minds of the Western public as a forward-looking politician, Maltsev paints a far less charitable portrait of a party apparatchik who lacked any intellectual curiosity, and held fast to his belief in socialism despite the large scale collapse happening throughout the Soviet Republic. Most importantly, Maltsev reminds us that rather than being some misapplication of principles, the USSR was, in fact, a sincere and faithful attempt to apply and implement Marxist doctrine.  Put that in your pipe and Bern it, Occupiers.

The chapter written by Hans-Hermann Hoppe is revelatory because he illustrates the parallels between the Austrian and Marxist analysis of exploitation. Marxists and Austrians both posit the existence of a predatory ruling class, but Marxists got it completely wrong by incorrectly pointing the finger at capitalists and producers. Hoppe draws a critical distinction between those who produce and exchange through voluntary contract and the homesteading principle versus those who extract wealth through involuntary and coercive means (i.e. the State). The former are the productive classes and the latter are the parasites.  

Gary North’s examination of Marx’ personal life, spending and borrowing habits, academic output, financial dependence, and absence of any real employment history is absolutely essential because it exposes Marx as the dilettante that he was. The fact that Marx is so heavily favored by pampered, bourgeois academics is sadly appropriate because that’s exactly what Marx himself was.  Not only was he born into wealth and privilege, he married into wealth and privilege, and managed to squander a fortune that easily placed him in the 19th century 1%. Not exactly the hardscrabble life of a working-class prole. Boasting an exhaustive set of original and biographical sources, North paints a picture of a classically narcissistic and predatory personality. Marx was deeply vindictive and spiteful towards opponents both real and perceived, demanded compliance from everyone around him, lived off the patronage of Engels and spent well beyond his means, fathered illegitimate children despite having no gainful employment, and proffered no positive theory of socialism while penning volumes of seething criticism of capitalism. Most tellingly, Marx essentially stopped publishing at age 49, and North argues that this was because Marx had reached an intellectual dead end.  For someone who’s entire theory of exploitation hinged on the idea of class exploitation, the fact that he never bothered to define “class” until the third volume of Das Kapital says quite a bit about the superficiality of his thought. North delivers a stinging rebuke to the political parasites, celebrity socialists, media water carriers and academic wankers who replicate Marx’ cult of personality, venerate his toxic swill, and telegraph their phony concern for the working man while luxuriating in the confines of their gilded fiefdoms. With this chapter alone, Gary North has driven a permanent stake into the heart of the myth of Marx as a Champion of the Working Class.

David Osterfeld’s critique of the Marxian taxonomy of historical modes of production and theory of history completely annihilates the validity of any claim that Marx makes on his system of thought being a genuinely scientific framework.  Throughout his work, Marx makes repeated references to the allegedly irreconcilable contradictions of capitalism, but it appears that few true believers in Marxist doctrine examine the contradictions within the Marxist theory itself.  Among the many confused and confusing notions which emanated from his addled mind, his theory of the inevitability of socialism receives a well deserved thrashing. According to Marx, the material forces of production develop without interruption like some sentient Borg-like hive mind which simultaneously gives rise to the exploitative bourgeois superstructure, improves material conditions and immiserates the proletariat all at once. Individual initiative and innovation play no role in his theory nor does the increased satisfaction that follows from the ongoing material improvement for the vast majority of the population. He simply presents the development of a revolutionary proletarian consciousness laboring under the crushing bootheel of the capitalist machine as an unfalsifiable a priori proposition. Most importantly, Osterfeld illustrates how Marx alternates between a sociological definition of capitalism and an economic one which, if properly distinguished, would have made a clearer separation between the mercantilist interventions of the State and the voluntary nature of market transactions. 

Picking up where Gary North and Hoppe left off, Ralph Raico uncovers the classical liberal roots of the theory of class exploitation and illustrates how Marx perverted the idea and propagated a wildly distorted vision of reality.  Marx cribbed his theories of class struggle from early classical liberal thinkers, François Guizot and Augustin Thierry, but by the end of Engel’s life, the role of the individual in the development of historical materialism had been nearly erased. Through the liberal journal, Le Censeur Européen, Thierry, Charles Comte, and Charles Dunoyer developed the doctrine of Industrialisme, or Industrialism. These thinkers put commerce at the center of society and asserted voluntary exchange as the true engine of virtue, industry, and innovation.  Most importantly, these men also drew critical inspiration from fellow Frenchman and economic theorist, Jean-Baptiste Say.  At the center of the theory of Industrialism was a harsh rebuke to the intervention of the State in economic affairs. All of these theorists correctly identified the State and its enablers as the idlers, exploiters and parasites. Marx and his followers ended up turning this analysis on its head and pitting workers against capitalists while assigning an unwarranted illusion of virtue to the expropriative power of the State.  

Coming in for the coup de grâce is the late, great Murray Rothbard. Drawing from a mind boggling collection of original and secondary sources, Rothbard argues that the Marxian pursuit of Communism was, in fact, religious in nature. Rothbard argues that not only was the Marxian pretense of secular scientific rationalism a pathetic farce, but his work had roots in religious millennarian prophecy which seeks a Kingdom of God on Earth.  Just as Marx’ economic thought was built upon the foundations of British Classicism, his pursuit of communism was merely a repurposing of the work of 16th century religious zealots who also saw inequality as a moral sin and sought redress through confiscation and conscripted labor. Rothbard focuses in particular on the first large scale attempt at Communism in Europe based on the teachings of the megalomaniacial eschatological Anabaptist, Thomas Müntzer.  Though Müntzer’s initial attempt at Anabaptist Communism in the city of Muhlhausen was another abject failure resulting in mass death and his ultimate execution at the hands of the German monarchy, his ideas carried on and were implemented by others to similarly disastrous results. The zealots who picked up the torch of eschatological Anabaptist Communism eventually gravitated to the city of Münster, and under the leadership of another set of proto-Lenins, Jan Matthys and Jan Bockelson, the first major experiment in socialist dictatorship was imposed.  All the features that defined every modern Communist dictatorship were present in the Münster experiment. Private property was confiscated, labor was coerced, disobedience was met with capital punishment, and the lionshare of the produce of society was reserved for the self-appointed elites. 

Rothbard also points out that Marx was a Christian in his youth before he adopted Hegelianism as a college student and his megalomaniacal ambitions, nihilism and abject hostility to humanity were present in his early attempts at play writing and poetry. 

Among the many failures of logic in the Marxian framework is his inability to reconcile market prices to the value of labor inputs. The entire edifice of Marxism rests on the premise that market prices must reflect the value of labor inputs and that the relationship between capitalist and laborers is exploitative by nature. Rothbard neatly emphasizes that Marxists have neither adequately responded to Eugen Böhm-Bawerk’s critique of this aspect of the Marxian system nor come to grips with the insights of the Marginalists.  

Rothbard correctly observed that ideas are notoriously hard to kill even if they’re demonstrably bad ideas like Marxism.  The fact that Marxism forms the backdrop of thought for contemporary sociology, the new secular religion of the Left, is unsurprising. Predictably, the loudest advocacy for socialism is coming from the academic class via gender studies, critical race theory and other variations in postmodern social analysis. These new school socialists have simply put a new veneer on an old formula.  The New Kingdom of God on Earth will be achieved by eradicating racism and sexism. And of course, the age old gripe against inequality of outcomes must be rectified through confiscation and redistribution (aka “economic justice”). There’s no doubt these secondhand theories emanate from the same poisonous well of thought from which Marxism itself emanates.  

The debate against socialism should have been settled long ago.  Sadly, Marxism has retained its place as the unofficial religion of the Left since the Left has no firm principles and, like their Marxist forebears, have made the State their religion. The fantasy of “equality” and the yearning for a secular morality coupled with a prefab indictment of free market capitalism all conspire to keep Marxism alive. Subsequently, academic con artists, media dittoheads, and political hacks are aggrandized and their pretentious paeans to the proletariat proliferate. Aging Boomers and their patchouli soaked, non-binary, queer positive, trustafarian progeny lured by promises of “social and economic justice” and a sweet Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack regurgitate their braindead slogans like manna from heaven while what remains of the free world marches down the road to serfdom once again.  

Perhaps humanity needs to learn its lessons the hard way by repeating its mistakes a few times. It would be nice if it didn’t have to come to that. Marx and his system have been refuted many times over, and this magnificent collection of essays has earned its rightful place as the final epitaph for a philosophy that’s well past its expiration date. It’s high time that socialists pay attention.