Three writers who have seen a bit of police excess in their lives and reporting adventures discuss Ferguson, media, and what it would take for the rest of the country to demand real reform of the po-pos.

Host: Lucy Steigerwald: Columnist for VICE.com, Antiwar.com, Rare.us, and Editor in Chief of The Stag Blog; @lucystag

Guests: Michael Tracey, reporter for VICE, The American Conservative, The Nation, Salon; @mtracey

Justin Glawe, reporter for The Daily Beast, VICE; @justinglawe

Not Ed Krayewski, because his tech failed.

Official video of the night is X playing two killer songs on David Letterman in 1983. I love me some “Los Angeles” abrasive punk, but this is a little more rock and roll. Hell, clearly this band is my destiny, since they started off with rough punk, and then just turned into a country band after a while.

They play “Hot House” — *makes cat purring sound at John Doe*. Then Exene is in such kick-ass form on “Breathless,” which is a Jerry Lee Lewis song. (The “ironic” punk cover thing works when it’s just a good cover of a song, by the way.)

As I mentioned somewhere on the internet, when I saw these crazy kids, it was an awesome show, but I wasn’t in the mood for the show until it was over. Since this is Pittsburgh, that could be years and years. (This explains why I have a major California itch right now, too. Along with beloved cousin lives there, and my yearning to hang out with Eric Garris and Justin Raimondo.) The crowd itself was impressively horrible, except for two solid rows of people who couldn’t be happier to be there. That, kids, is why concerts are the thing. I run the gamut of emotions (“from A to B”) at them each time. Love for humans, love for their complete joy in being there, and just a homicidal loathing for all the jerks who should have drank beer in their own homes.

I was also vaguely thinking as I watched the Letterman performance about how John Doe is hot, and Exene is such a bad-ass chick. And I wonder if there are any straight men in the world who, say if they aren’t musicians themselves, ever watch rock and roll ladies and want to be like them. Do they just want to do them instead? Do men admire women? Sometimes I think they don’t. Or, they might admire them, but they never want to be them the way I want to be a rock and roll dude (or a certain writer, or whomever). John Doe is attractive with his weird hillbilly punk vibe, but I would be just as happy to be that cool guy playing the bass as to lust after him. I don’t think men react that way to watching Exene. If men want to be women ever, they hide it pretty damn well.

There are women I find aspirational and bad-ass in the world, but there are a lot more men. I hate that a little. I mostly listen to men, I mostly read men. I am the self-aware version of the Jezebel commenter’s slur that goes, those girls who say they don’t get along with girls are the worst. Most of the time, I am more comfortable with men, and I have more to say to them. Neither going to lady college, nor admitting that I like some cute shit and laughing at Lifetime movies, and that I hate football, changed this fact. Yet, I still think men really do have a shameful inability to identify with women. They are the default, we are the other. Tiresome college feminism things have a few points now and again. Maybe I am thinking about that because I lately feel so turned off by feminism. (And yet, conservatives’ views on gender are so not going to happen for me. Gross. Everyone is so wrong and reactionary on this issue. Just like on every other issue, to be fair.)

Sweet fancy Moses, I am treating this professional(ish) blog like the secret Tumblr of my heart. I just…thought about this while watching X. You don’t have to. Just enjoy the rock and roll. I’ll be here being distracted from the police being the worst again.

In which I stammer at Jeffrey Tucker:

It was a fun time, in spite of my drowned-rat hair and general flailing. Tucker and I chat about the police, libertarians and the police, federal tyranny vs. local, minarchism vs. anarchism, the heroics of Radley Balko, Anthony Gregory, and Henry David Thoreau, and the wonders of YA dystopian fiction.

  • bwi2ygrlc4ycuehzeek2Oh, here are some things I have written lately, like “Advocating For the Next War Means Forgetting History” for Antiwar. Also, my VICE piece — most successful ever, yes I watch the shiny clicks happens — on cops shooting people holding (non-firearm) weapons. Also, my new VICE piece — not nearly so successful — on the idea of feds fixing local cops. 
  • Hey, Dad‘s Dogging Steinbeck was reviewed in The Daily Caller! Best of all, reviewed by a creative nonfiction writer who uncomfortably concluded that Dad had a point with his Steinbeck annoyance. (Thanks, Jordan Bloom, for finding a worthy reviewer!)
  • Allah Pundit linked to me, other less important people, while musing on Rand Paul’s interventionism levels.
  • And hey, I ranted about the police on Saturday Night Cigar Lounge over at Vigilant Liberty Radio. (My segment starts at 33’45).
  • Here’s Pat Buchanan on ISIS, the why and the what to do
  • Headlines from the start of World War II (no offense, Manchuria).
  • Matt Welch gives Rand Paul credit on criminal justice reform — something he deserves, no matter what else happens.
  • Reminder that Jeff Mizanskey is serving life in prison without parole for marijuana-related crimes. This, unclever liberals and conservatives who say libertarians are just Republicans who want to smoke pot, is why we hate you when you say that.
  • Policy Mic writer confused that the decreasing threat of new gun regulations has lead to fewer sales of “assault” rifles. How is that surprising?
  • WTF, DHS
  • Oldie, but goodie: Cathy Young is reasonable and non-panicked in respect to the issue of online harassment. Violent threats are disturbing and should not be excused as just trolling, HOWEVER, if you read Jezebel, similar, you will see unqualified statements about the life of being a woman online being one of endless harassment. Knock on wood, but that has not ever been the case for me. Nor are these handful of disturbing stories acceptable proof that this problem is as widepsread as people are making it out to be. Again, people being told they will be raped and murder, not okay. Thankfully, it might be rarer than it seems.
  • This piece mentions the word “taxi” once — “What happens when the local taxi companies are destroyed[?]” Well, people in Pittsburgh might be able to get a ride somewhere, for one. Critique Uber all you like, but if you want me to take you remotely seriously, don’t use “hyper-capitalism” and try to have the slightest idea what you’re talking about in terms of transportation regulations. 
  • Also today in nope: Nope, Melissa Harris-Perry. Rand Paul deserves more criminal justice points than Obama. Sorry.
  • Nope, Taylor Swift is not obligated to do anything, or sing about anything. The world is always going to shit, which is exactly the reason some people like stupid songs about “haters.”
  • And nope, the ice bucket challenge isn’t bad because…uh…people in other countries are suffering. I don’t even know.
  • Here is a Guardian sentence: “If you see yourself as a left-leaning progressive parent, you might want to exercise some of that oppressive parental control and limit your kids exposure to the “freedom” expressed in YA dystopian fiction.” I see you reaching feebly for self-awareness, but it’s too late. Yes, stop the children from reading The Hunger Games. Katnis is such a horrible model for children, with her self-sacrifice, bravery, and desire to live without government oppressing her. Damn those books for suggesting that war is horrible — even wars of liberation — and may leave you with PTSD and a worse, or equally bad government. Ugh. I might need to write more on this topic, for the troll is strong.
  • I find Jerry Springer singing about Cincinnati sort of entrancing, yet disturbing. (H/T: Jesse Walker)
  • Empire Records is not a very good movie, and yet 1) I read this entire piece, 2) When my sister’s friend from Canada was visiting, the two of them watched the movie 2.75 times, and I watched it three times, and each time I was totally too young to know what was going on. 3) At least it’s not Reality Bites, because God damn that movie is the worst.
  • These are the vaccines you’re looking for.
  • Why Doctor Who gets us right in the gut.

Videos of the day:

John Doe and the Sadies cover Johnny Cash

Sam Quinn, whose music is so good, and so not very available to share with the people, does a version of “Peggy-O.” I wish I could share his live version of the Juicy Fruit jingle. It is truly inspired.

testament-1983-ross-harris-roxanne-zal-jane-alexander-lukas-haas-rebecca-demornay-kevin-costner-pic-2A PBS production from 1983 that ended up in theaters, and with an Oscar nomination for lead Jane Alexander, Testament came at the end of the last Cold War hot flash, along with Threads and The Day After. Those two were all big, showing every grim — television budgeted — detail of the end of the world, or at least western civilization. Threads, bizarrely, is so excruciating that a numbness — albeit a queasy type — starts to set in by the time nuclear winter rolls round.

In Testament, you wish that were the case. This sneaky, understated movie is the Platonic ideal of real horror. Most nuclear war fiction, even if it is all about one family, town, or city plunged into uncertainty, shows you some pieces of the story. Jericho, Alas, Babylon,  On the Beach, they tell you how we got here, even though there is always a fog of war element. Testament is not interested in the why of anything, it just wants you to look until you can’t stand it anymore. This is just the story of a mom, her three kids, and her husband who never comes home from work in San Francisco on the day the bombs are dropped.

The movie takes its time on the family, the totally banal family living in the little California town. It’s about them and how they could be anyone. This could be happening for any reason, and whichever reason that is is bullshit. Even near the end, when Jane Alexander’s matriarch Carole falls to her knees and cries “Who did this?! God damn you!” she’s not asking about the socio-political explanation. It, in some ways, doesn’t matter. There is one tiny glimpse of television new that says nukes have been dropped, then there is a bright light. A few radio broadcasts tell us little later, but they mostly just mean a fraying connections to the outside world.

Things seem alright for a while in town, and the acting and the terrible regularness of it all confirms this. I find myself again feeling skeptical about the lack of hysteria. Hell, maybe “The Shelter” is most accurate then I thought. Why does nobody crack up? Haven’t they seen movies like this one? Jane Alexander is good, but she is mostly a little too composed.

But the everyday living facade, and the ease of watching it for the audience, starts to crack after the town puts on the school play that Carole was preparing for when the movie began. Twenty Kindergartners preform the Pied Piper, and the adults in the audience watch and cry because the see the familiarity: mistakes were made, and the children are going to pay for it. They cannot be trusted with the children. They are why they won’t get to have lives at all.

There are several more plateaus of regular living. Surviving requires working with the other people on town, and it does seem to work. Then another spike of horror comes when Carole’s friend is wandering in the rain holding a drawer that will serve as a coffin for his baby. Still, the food rations, the lines, the organization of everything sends the inevitability of thing back a few weeks. There’s the symbol of hope that is the radio, manned by a level-headed old neighbor. Carole’s oldest boy visits him, and then helps him check on the rest of the townspeople. He rides his bike, which is his talisman that reminds him of his dad, who would pester him into riding with him. Near the end, he has to ride his dad’s bike. He rides it past scenes of graves, and of graveyards filling past capacity. Eventually the bodies are burned instead.

This movie is a sneak, in the most stomach-aching fashion. The town is staying organized, until the police chief suddenly has a subtle, and entirely real nervous breakdown during a town meeting in church. The kids are bratty or earnest in turn until they are quieted by radiation sickness. The daughter is daddy’s girl, and rather dull, until the conversation she has with her mother about sex culminates in her tearfully saying that that love, and sharing, and all that will never happen for her, and she knows it. There are sentimental trimmings, including– like On the Beach — an overly intrusive soundtrack But the horror wins out. Fiendishly abruptly, things falls apart and the graveyards fill, the littlest boy is suddenly sick in the bathroom. After a few minutes, he’s wrapped in a sheet. That’s the progression of the movie now. It picks up speed as the family runs out of time.

Good parents are heroes in the most terrifying way. A good parent is supposed to give up their life for their child. The only thing more frightening an idea than that is the parent who can do nothing except watch their children slowly die. It’s happened, and it will always happen because of cruel accident and disease. But movies like this can’t help but remind me of what the US did to parents in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It — the government that is just another word for things we choose to do together — made parents watch their children die. The power of the bombs were the way they killed slowly or in a millisecond. The latter gave us shadows on sidewalks, grim poetry and metaphor, and at least a complete lack of suffering for the victim. Radiation sickness, on the other hand, is slow agony. Nothing artful in that, just vomiting, and diarrhea, and hair loss, and nausea, and dizziness, and death. This movie, and other apocalyptic fiction, were intended to ward off what they showed on screen (though nothing is as grim as it would be, not even the ’80 dread trio). And they worked, if the tales of Reagan watching The Day After are as simple as they sound. But I can’t help but be reminded that that nightmare already was done to thousands of people. Our Cold War fiction is the horrors that were avoided. We are never as interested in the ones we caused. Too prosaic.

Testament is propelled by its characters — simple ones, who by rights should have stayed that way. We shouldn’t be watching them at all, because this shouldn’t have happened. But it’s not nihilistic. It’s not Threads, where it just pounds at you, screaming that this must never be, and if it does we’ll be brutes, and then there will be nothing left of humanity — because, seemingly, humanity is a thin skin over a pit of savagery. For a movie about the complete lack of control over saving yourself, and your loved ones, Testament highly values the idea of being good and decent as you die. It’s a feeble fading away with nothing to be done in one way. In another, you remember your loved ones who left, you help your neighbors, and you don’t become a monster. The smaller this movie gets — and it is oh, so small by the final — the more clearly it demonstrates that one family is the world, and the world is just about to end, but perhaps it ended as well as it could.

JohnExcene2Man, that guy is tall. We thought we were so sneaky approaching the stage from the side. But he’s just standing right in the corner. Literally everyone behind him is a foot and a half shorter. Oh well, he doesn’t seem like he’s actually a dick, just a tall guy who doesn’t realize he’s blocking eight people who he could see over anyway. But, like, how far does that tall person obligation go? He shouldn’t be sent to the way back of the room simply because he can see over 98 percent of the heads here. That wouldn’t be right.

Oh, hey, X. Yes, they’re old now, A. Old punks happen. Hey, Billy Zoom is like two feet away. He’s staring a lot at the crowd. Ugh…so…much…eye…contact. Doesn’t he know the rock star rule about not looking at anyone? This is funny, but also I don’t even look in my loved ones’ eyes, so I am going to look away. I hope A. can’t tell he sort of looks like her creepy ex. But he’s awesome, so that’s not fair.

BillyZoomOh, hey, there are a bunch of X albums in the middle I missed. Ugh, Billy Zoom is so good, that I feel guilty even liking that album that contains “Fourth of July” because he’s not even on it. I can’t hear vocals that well, maybe I should take this cotton out of my ears. Oh, never mind. Loud. Hey, vocals. Awesome. Still odd and wonderful, this clashing, cawing mixing of John Doe and Exene Cervenka’s voices.

Hey, it’s Scott Mervis from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, standing right behind me! Can he tell who I am? Maybe if I mouth the words “Scott Mervis” and “Steigerwald” he will get the idea. Hey, tall guy doesn’t seem to mind that I am kind of in front of him now. Damn, that punk couple could not be happier to be here. Neither could that older lady punk couple. So cute, the four of them. There are a lot more older people here than at any of the middle aged punk rock shows I have attended — this includes Jello Biafra, The Slits, and Stiff Little Fingers. I hate people who think it’s embarrassing that middle aged people play punk (or old people play rock and roll). I hate them. What a horrible way to live, thinking that way. Nobody should ever be embarrassed on someone else’s behalf. If I hadn’t already known that, I would have learned it from an endearing Rolling Stones article in Time a few years back. Rock until you drop dead, gentlemen. I salute you.

Hey, I kind of know this song. Hey, I don’t know this song, but God damn Billy Zoom is good at guitar. Hey, “Los Angeles”! Point of interest: Jello Biafra no longer sings “niggers” in “Holiday in Cambodia.” X keeps the word in “Los Angeles.” I had wondered.

JohnDoeMan, this crowd is so weak. Pittsburgh crowds mostly suck. I can’t believe Altar Bar actually had a no moshing sign. But then, if people really wanted to mosh, they would mosh right now — damn the man!

That movie where John Doe rides a motorcycle a lot is weird and okay, in a subpar Jim Jarmusch sort of way. That mediocre movie where Jewel played June Carter was definitely mediocre, but the casting choice of John Doe as AP Carter was inspired. I wish that was the entire movie.

Exene is a punk rock witch. I’m feeling her Rogue hair and her dress and boots. It’s all just enough, and not too much. I wish I could sit her down and explain to her that being a libertarian is awesome, but she shouldn’t believe in (baseless, Youtube-y) conspiracy theories. John Doe badly needs a haircut. If he had a bit more of a would-be rockabilly hair situation, I definitely wouldn’t be trying to gauge his handsomeness levels. (They would be clear.)

Their “Soul Kitchen” is way better than The Doors original. Man, X should totally tour with The Knitters. That would be so convenient, touring with themselves. I hope A. is having a good time. Man, maybe this is a weird bachelorette activity. At least I can constantly make the joke that if she and C. ever divorce, she can have Viggo Mortensen’s child afterwards. But look, divorced people in a band! It’s fine!

Oooh, “Johnny Hit and Run Paulene”! It is is so catchy, and is also like three times as disturbing live. But then, part of the disturbing quality is how hot John Doe is in this video:

Yeah, John Doe is now attractive because I am remembering this video. This is uncomfortable. Rape is not attractive. Not even fictional song rape. I think this song now makes him seem more attractive because he’s all sweaty and attractive in that video. He’s kind of sweaty now, too. I think that’s okay with me. Also, I think he’s now singing “no” at the end, as kind of a refrain. That’s new. Maybe that’s progress.

exceneI totally once read something about how John Doe brought flowers to his new wife and to Exene because they were both having babies in the same hospital at the same time. So, he’s probably nice in spite of the rape song.

“The last Paulene wouldn’t cooperate” is such a shoutable line, and so awful. So catchy. Fuck you, song. You’re great. (Also I gleefully sing “crushed little kids!” and “let’s lynch the landlord!” but that’s just, like, the Jello Biafra experience, man. This is more awkward for reasons.)

I don’t know a lot of these songs well, but they’re all short and rough and so good. Oh, it’s over. Oh, fuck you, Pittsburgh crowd. I have never had to work so hard to make an encore happen in my life. You paid 30 bucks for this. Enthuse, you fuckers. Enthuse.

I don’t know any of these songs, but they’re still good. Aw, John Doe leaned against Exene and it was adorable. Oh, it’s over. Damn, their songs are too short. I guess Los Angeles the album is only like half an hour long. I’ll stand aside and let the worthy people snag setlists. Man, even though there was no pit, I hope I don’t smell as terrible as I feel I do. No, I do.

Man, that was great. Let’s go again. See you in like four years, when you remember Pittsburgh exists again, X. Bands always do that: “Sorry we’ve been gone so long, Pittsburgh! This is such a great city, we’ll be back soon!” Lies.

God damn, everything just sounds good with that Billy Zoom guitar. I love punk rock. I love this controlled cacophony. I love how after a few listens, when it clicks — if it’s your music — you’ve cracked the code. It’s noise, and you can hear everything underneath it. Rock until you drop dead, fellows. Let nobody make you feel ashamed.JohnExcene

Ansel_Elgort_43600Once, unsure what sort of movie I was in the mood for, I asked twitter if I should go for nuclear war or ’80s teen movie. My then-colleague Tim Cavanaugh answered the only logical way — why choose, when there’s WarGames?

Matthew Broderick, Ally Sheedy, earnest ’80s pleas for peace, and menacing Cold War terrors, and the impossibility of computers that can actually communicate with computers; this movie fulfilled those two genre urges like no other one can. It is dated in all the right ways. (Why is dated a pejorative again? I love dated.)

I don’t presume to know anything about hacking, except for what I learned from Cracked lists about what it doesn’t look like. But WarGames, the story of Matthew Broderick’s David Lightman almost starting global thermonuclear war when he thinks he’s playing a game with a computer named WOPR (War Operation Plan Response)/”Joshua” is reportedly a pretty solid portrayal of it. The exception is the cinema-ready self-awareness of the computer itself, but certainly the scene where David calls different computers to find one with a modem — thereby finding his way to Joshua — is the opposite of the Hackers-style flash and dash bullshit. The movie explains backdoor passwords, and shows much more than frantic typing in order to explain how computers function or react. This seriousness is why the Vegas hacker conference is named in the movie’s honor. Or rather, confusingly, it is called DEFCON — for the NORAD levels of defense readiness which we all learned from various alien/nuke movies. (DEFCON is important to the movie, and puns are great, but that’s still a silly name. Why not JoshuaCon? WOPRCon? MatthewBroderickCon?)

This is a fairly slow-paced movie. The acting is good enough to go unnoticed.  The hackerness is all respected, meaning the computer intrigue before the accidental near-nuclear war is given its due. Later there’s David being taken by the FBI into NORAD. He escapes, and he and lady friend Ally Sheedy make their way to Joshua’s creator to plead with him to save the day. In true Cold War (movies, if nothing else) nihilism style, Joshua’s creator is initially too depressed about the inevitably of nuclear doom to do anything to stop the events. But just in time, he is convinced, and the three heroes make their way back to NORAD just in time to play the great, metaphorical tic-tac-toe that ends Joshua’s attempts to kill us all with the terrifying fiction of a Soviet ICBM assault.

The computer’s famous ending lines are cheesy, and they somehow work within the earnestness of the moment. Tic-tac-toe/Mutually Assured Destruction is a: “Strange game, the only winning move is not to play.” (So “How about a nice game of chess?”) Notably, before Joshua is tricked, then taught — an AI that learns, also an alarming concept! — with the game of tic-tac-toe, the military men at NORAD must be convinced to hold off on a counter-strike against the (non-existent) Soviet assault on their own.  Now, there’s an endlessly topical lesson, applicable to the US and Israel and other muscly nations — maybe you don’t automatically fire back, melting a few civilians in the process. Maybe you take a minute to consider your options, even when you are being attacked. Maybe you just don’t play.

In spite of the evergreen lesson of don’t kill everybody — and don’t let it happen by automation, which pops up in all manner of cold war fiction, for good reason – WaGames is solidly of its time. This makes talk of remaking it particularly baffling. What is a WarGames from 2014 or ’15 even about? Preventing a fake 9/11? There could be espionage and government secrets, but any variation would logically make this a different movie altogether. Personal computers are not the aliens that they were in 1983 — we now check them like we used to smoke cigarettes, with the same thoughtless tic. And we may be looking nervously at Russia more often than we were a few months ago, but fear of The Bomb is more passe than even space travel. Whether that is unwise remains to be seen — hopefully forever.

serenityOriginally rambled out over at Liberty.me. Spoilers for the 2005 film Serenity, proceed with caution

Joss Whedon’s painfully-beloved, endlessly-missed, didn’t-even-get-a-God-damn-full-season sci-fi Western Firefly had its libertarian moments. Hell, the pilot has the main character, the funny, but wounded Captain Malcolm Reynolds, say the following piece of dialogue: “That’s what government’s for — get in a man’s way.”

Mal has a reason to feel this way. He’s the the survivor of a losing war with the government known as the Alliance, whose noose around the rest of the universe grows tighter and tighter all the time. Mal simply wants to be left alone, with his eight other crewmates, and his beloved spaceship Serenity. Included in his crew are Simon Tam, who watches over his sister River, a damaged, psychic genius who has been experimented on and is on the run from government agents; as well as Inara, who is basically a registered courtesan (sexual freedom! Kind of!). The rest of the crew is a well-rounded, albeit Joss Whedon-archetypal group of men and ladies. We’ve got goofy guy, the badass warrior, the adorable chipper girl, but well, it’s better than all that, and if you don’t love it, well, I don’t know what to tell you.

Alright, so, Captain Mal is not a libertarian saint. The crew of the Serenity does some good, old-fashioned smuggling to keep going.  They also commit some theft. Even with some attempted justification for this by virtue of their residing in a crony capitalistic government, it doesn’t quite work. They’re not perfect.

Still, the libertarianism is not incidental. Whedon is definitely a liberal, but he has described Mal as “if not a Republican, certainly a libertarian.” Whedon built the show out of his own beloved and quippy character types, out of Western tropes, anime like the similar motley crew in space-themed Anime Cowboy Bebop, and the Civil War novel The Killer Angels. The rough and tumble group surviving after a lost war for independence is deliberately intended to invoke Confederates after the Civil War.

This is maybe why Whedon has previously mentioned that he isn’t necessarily on Mal’s side in all things. Perhaps the Alliance is not objectively the big villain that an individualist like the Captain believes it to be. But then, it doesn’t matter. The show endorses, if nothing else, Mal’s desire to live his own life. Whedon’s occasional attempts at neo-historical distance don’t really hold up against this basic need of Mal’s to be on his own, and out from under the thumb of the government.

(The self-described “more of a libertarian” producer and writer Tim Minear, who penned my favorite episode “Out of Gas also helps enhance that feeling of righteous leave me alone-dom.)

In 2005, fans got the movie Serenity, which more or less wrapped up the story of the crew (a few mysteries were left to successive comic books).

The struggles of River, who has been mentally unstable since the Alliance messed with her brain, are the highlight. She is being followed by a deliciously nuanced and unnerving villain known only as The Operative. He pursues her not just because, as in the series, River fled from the Academy that messed with her mind. Turns out River also knows a horrible secret about something the Alliance has done (maybe don’t bring a psychic into a room full of government men with secrets). In one of her moments of bewilderment she tries to tell her brother what she sees in her head: “old men covered in blood — never touched them, but they’re drowning in it.” (It may be a crazy girl’s confused cries, but that sure sounds like the state.)

The movie actually begins with one of River’s mixtures of a childhood memory, a nightmare, and a psychic vision. In that scene, young River tells her school teacher, “People don’t like to be meddled with. We tell them what to do, what to think, don’t run, don’t walk. We’re in their homes and in their heads and we haven’t the right. We’re meddlesome. ”

As perfectly, toe-curlingly libertarian as that is to see, especially on the big screen, it gets better.

Our plot culminates with the crew of Serenity discovering what River knew — the horrors the Alliance unleashed upon an entire planet called Miranda.  There is a convenient piece of future-video evidence where a woman involved explains that they “meant it for the best.” It being the use of a new type of drug intended to make the population of 30 million become calm, complacent, and nonviolent. It worked so well it killed most of the people of Miranda. A minority of them became the terrifying, cannibalistic killers known as Reavers.

Our (big damn) heroes are horrified, but the question now is what to do with the information. With the Operative following close behind, they decide to visit their friend Mr. Universe, a kind of unpleasant, but useful character who hacks and broadcasts pirate communications.

But before they make that decision, Captain Mal has to give the speech — he has to convince his crew to follow him, to risk their lives to reveal this information. They can’t let this crime be covered up anymore. They have to “speak for these people.” Says Mal:

 Y’all got on this boat for different reasons, but y’all come to the same place. So now I’m asking more of you than I have before. Maybe all. Sure as I know anything, I know this – they will try again. Maybe on another world, maybe on this very ground swept clean. A year from now, ten? They’ll swing back to the belief that they can make people… better. And I do not hold to that. So no more runnin’. I aim to misbehave.

These words may have been penned by a softy liberal like Joss Whedon, but do we libertarians need fiction better that that? It’s perfect. The movie could end right there, and it would still be satisfying.

The final scenes involve a last ditch fight between the Reavers and the crew, while Captain Mal fights the Operative in order to access the equipment that will broadcast the proof of the Alliance crimes. Mysteriously, it took me half a dozen watches, and a post-Edward Snowden world before I realized — they’re whistleblowers. The entire premise of the climax is that simply leaking information is work risking the lives of Mal and his crew. Indeed, the unstated assumption is also that by showing the universe what happened to the people of Miranda, thanks to the Alliance’s terrifying experiment, they will weaken that government.

It is an optimistic idea. The Alliance probably has more than one small group of evil-doers. Like the National Security Agency, or the Pentagon, or God knows who else, their presumption is mighty. Here in our world, we have seen attempts to reign in the NSA, but we haven’t seen them get anywhere yet. The most jaded say, yeah, we already knew what Snowden gave up his home to tell us about. We knew in 2005, and probably before, and nobody gave much of a shit. We also know that the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are out of control. Hell, they are part of the same mechanism. Showing that the NSA spies on innocent people isn’t guaranteed to shut it down any more than knowledge of the DEA’s immoral purpose has stopped it from becoming a spy agency in its own right.

Last year, as the skinny, soft-spoken, earnest Snowden first revealed himself, and explained why he had leaked the NSA documents, I was giddy with admiration. He left a comfy life, and all his loved ones behind in order to tell a truth he thought we needed to know. Snowden was, indeed, a big damn hero. 

But so what? Chelsea Manning is one, too. And she has 30 more years to linger in prison because she wanted to show people what war really looked like. Not enough people cared about “collateral murder”or the Iraq war logs. They didn’t want to know. She was just as well-spoken, just as certain that the government has far too many secrets about far too many important issues than Snowden. But nobody wanted to see it, or go head to head with the cult of the military. The NSA is a much easier target, and we still haven’t come close to beating it. Today The Intercept revealed that No Such Agency built its own Google-like search engine in order to share 850 billion documents with the FBI, CIA, DEA, and others.

As much as I adore Serenity, I have to wonder whether Mal and his crew’s effort to show the ‘verse the horrible crime of their government mattered much in the end.  And maybe that’s the point. The movie doesn’t prove that they changed the nature of the government by revealing its evil acts. They certainly didn’t destroy it. The movie simply gives us nine brave characters who want to live their own lives, and one villain who thinks that doing wrong is alright as long as you keep your far-off noble end result in mind. Serenity isn’t about overthrowing the big, bad authorities, it’s about folks who subscribe to the notion that “if you can’t do something smart, do something right.” This is something Manning and Snowden understand all too well.

It’s pretty pathetic when a tin-pot lapsed Commie KBG thug like Vladimir Putin is smarter about the Middle East than America’s foreign policy “experts.”

But he was — and probably still is.us-journalist-critical-of-putin-kicked-out-of-russia

A year ago Putin warned the Obama administration about the folly of intervening in Syria on the side of the rebels.

We (i.e., Obama) chickened out/smartened up and did not  send troops to Syria to dethrone the tin-pot thug Assad. We had already turned the Middle East into a bigger political hellhole than it already was by going into Iraq in 2003.

The Washington Post has a piece out now  entitled “Was Putin right about Syria?” Based on these quotes from a Putin op-ed in the  New York Times op-ed last September, he was:

A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.

Obviously, real bad shit was happening in Syria and it would have kept happening with or without inserting U.S. men and planes.

But as Putin’s ghostwriter  said, “Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multi-religious country.”

Putin correctly/sensibly/realistically said that Assad, though a major league monster, was a stabilizing force who was preferable to the religious fanatics who’d replace him. He also pointed out that the rebel cause in Syria was attracting Islamist zealots/morons from the West.

Mercenaries from Arab countries fighting there, and hundreds of militants from Western countries and even Russia, are an issue of our deep concern. Might they not return to our countries with experience acquired in Syria?

It really is depressing how stupid American foreign policy-makers have been since President Woody Wilson came up with the idea that America should use its guns, money and soldiers to force Western-style democracy on all nations.

Our great leaders never learn about the folly and inevitable failures and (always predictable) unintended consequences of sending armed missionaries to take over bad countries and make them good.

Guess who was right all along about the folly of going to war in Iraq?

That is, not counting Pat Buchanan, 156 members of Congress (seven brave Republicans) and thousands of others who opposed or voted against the Bush administration’s war plans for a multitude of good moral, principled, pragmatic, partisan or personal reasons.

The damn French were right. So was a nobody from the American Heartland.

On Feb. 14, 2003, as President Bush and his neocon dream team geared up to take down Saddam, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin  made a vain attempt to cool Bush’s pre-emptive jets.

De Villepin sounded pretty sensible about Iraq, not to mention prescient.

The “premature recourse to the military option,” he began, might appear to be the “swiftest” way to strip evil Saddam of the weapons of mass destruction.

But “let us not forget that having won the war, one has to build peace. Let us not delude ourselves; this will be long and difficult because it will be necessary to preserve Iraq’s unity and restore stability in a lasting way in a country and region harshly affected by the intrusion of force.”

Nine months later, as Iraq began its spiral into bloody chaos, De Villepin offered this unheard advice to America on CNN: “Don’t believe that you are going to solve Iraq because you are going to send more troops or more money.”

America had plenty of its own anti-war Cassandras who predicted the many bad things that invariably go wrong when you send armies to occupy, democratize and police a foreign land. They were all ignored, ridiculed or slurred for being cowards, just like the surrendering French.

One of the sharpest-eyed predictors who warned America’s Interventionist Industrial Complex to stay out of the Middle East came in 2002 from some unknown state senator from Middle America, where American non-interventionism used to be a religious tenet.

“I don’t oppose all wars,” the nobody said in a speech no one heard as the Bushies rattled their sabers and eyed Iraq.

What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.

The nobody droned on.

Even a successful war against Iraq, “will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences.” Among other accurate things, the nobody added it also would “strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaida.”

That wise counsel, of course, came in English from Illinois state senator Barack Obama. But even he didn’t listen to himself.

 

 

Pittsburgh, a city of about 305,000, is a safe and relatively crime-free city, right?

Ferguson, Missouri, is lawless and crime-ridden and needs an aggressive police force to keep its citizens in line, right?

But let’s look at some boring numbers.

The St. Louis County city’s population of 21,000 – roughly 65 percent black and 35 percent white — has 54 cops.

All but 3 are white, which has caused black leaders and the media to assume that the disproportionate number of black people stopped by police is a result of racism.images

Maybe.

It could be that Ferguson’s cops had so little real crime to worry about they, like many of their brethren in all-white and super-safe suburbs across the land, concentrated on petty traffic stops and harassing teenagers.

Without a real breakdown on actual “crimes” and such statistics as the ages of the races (old white folks are less likely to be stopped by police, while young black males on foot or in cars will be targeted, etc.) and the profiles of the convicted criminals, the numbers thrown around by the media and idiots like The Rev. Al Sharpton mean nothing.

Statistics can lie and confuse but they can also illuminate.

For example, Pittsburgh’s population is about 25 percent black. Its crime stats – particularly the 41 homicides in 2012 – were like most big cities heavily skewed by the black-male-on-black-male drug-gang wars on its streets. Otherwise, Pittsburgh is an incredible safe town, at least as far being a murder victim is concerned.

But as we watch Ferguson’s nightly riots and lootings (mostly performed by out-of-town trouble-makers), let’s not feel so smug, Pittsburghers.

Below, courtesy of city-data.com, are the crime stats for Ferguson and the city of Pittsburgh.

In 2012, the last year city-data.com offers, Pittsburgh’s murder rate per 100,000 people was higher than Ferguson’s. So was its rape rate and robbery rate. Pittsburgh’s assault rape was twice as high.

Ferguson’s bad guys did more burglaries, stole more cars and committed more thefts per 100,000 people, but Pittsburgh blew Ferguson away on arsons – 249 to 0, though the virtual absence of arsons  in Ferguson from 2000 to 2012 is highly suspicious.

Over all, according to city-data’s numbers anyway, Ferguson commits more crimes per capita than Pittsburgh.

The average crime rate for the United States is meaningless, since it includes virtually crimeless places like Vermont and there is no such place as Average Town, USA.

But in 2012 the U.S. average was 301.1, while Pittsburgh’s was 358.3 and Ferguson’s was 381.1. Chicago, where there were 500 murders in 2012 (most of them black males killed not by white cops but by other black males), the crime rate per 100,000 people was 562 in 2011 (the latest year city-data offered) when the national rate was 214.

So, to sum up the shocking news, Ferguson’s crime rate is only slightly higher than Pittsburgh’s but Chicago’s crime spree makes both cities look like daycare centers.

Here are the crime charts for 2011 and 2012.

Crime rates in Pittsburgh by Year
Type 2011 2012
Murders 44 41
per 100,000 14.3 13.1
Rapes 67 47
per 100,000 21.7 15.1
Robberies 1,126 1,134
per 100,000 364.9 363.3
Assaults 1,239 1,125
per 100,000 401.5 360.4
Burglaries 2,686 2,537
per 100,000 870.4 812.8
Thefts 6,897 7,610
per 100,000 2234.9 2438.2
Auto thefts 480 544
per 100,000 155.5 174.3
Arson 195 248
per 100,000 63.2 79.5
City-data.com crime rate (higher means more crime, U.S. average = 301.1) 368.2 358.3

 

Crime rates in Ferguson by Year
Type 2011 2012
Murders 5 2
per 100,000 23.5 9.4
Rapes 6 3
per 100,000 28.2 14.1
Robberies 45 38
per 100,000 211.5 178.9
Assaults 47 37
per 100,000 220.9 174.2
Burglaries 263 247
per 100,000 1235.9 1163.0
Thefts 649 699
per 100,000 3049.8 3291.3
Auto thefts 85 95
per 100,000 399.4 447.3
Arson 0 0
per 100,000 0.0 0.0
City-data.com crime rate (higher means more crime, U.S. average = 297.5) 433.0 381.1

 

Crime rates in Chicago by Year
Type 2010 2011 2012
Murders 432 431 500
per 100,000 15.2 15.9 18.5
Rapes 1,372 1,459 N/A
per 100,000 48.4 53.9 N/A
Robberies 13,757 12,408 13,476
per 100,000 485.5 458.8 497.6
Assaults 14,213 13,975 12,272
per 100,000 501.6 516.8 453.1
Burglaries 26,203 26,420 22,748
per 100,000 924.7 976.9 839.9
Thefts 74,764 72,373 72,717
per 100,000 2638.5 2676.1 2684.9
Auto thefts 19,446 19,078 17,001
per 100,000 686.3 705.4 627.7
Arson 519 503 N/A
per 100,000 18.3 18.6 N/A
City-data.com crime rate (higher means more crime, U.S. average = 301.1) 554.3 562.0 N/A

Ex-newspaperman Bill Steigerwald is the author of Dogging Steinbeck, which exposes the truth about “Travels With Charley” and celebrates Flyover America and its people. Blogs, photos, a 1960 Steinbeck/”Charley” trip timeline and more are at TruthAboutCharley.com.