February 2009

Suprynowicz, Vin. The Ballad of Carl Drega. Reno: Mountain Media, 2002. ISBN 978-0-9670259-2-6.
I was about write “the author is the most prominent libertarian writing for the legacy media today”, but in fact, to my knowledge, he is the only genuine libertarian employed by a major metropolitan newspaper (the Las Vegas Review-Journal), where he writes editorials and columns, the latter syndicated to a number of other newspapers. This book, like his earlier Send In The Waco Killers, is a collection of these writings, plus letters from readers and replies, along with other commentary. This volume covers the period from 1994 through the end of 2001, and contains his columns reacting to the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, which set him at odds with a number of other prominent libertarians.

Suprynowicz is not one of those go-along, get-along people L. Neil Smith describes as “nerf libertarians”. He is a hard-edged lover of individual liberty, and defends it fiercely in all of its aspects here. As much of the content of the book was written as columns to be published weekly, collected by topic rather than chronologically, it may occasionally seem repetitive if you read the whole book cover to cover. It is best enjoyed a little at a time, which is why it did not appear here until years after I started to read it. If you're a champion of liberty who is prone to hypertension, you may want to increase your blood pressure medication before reading some of the stories recounted here. The author's prognosis for individual freedom in the U.S. seems to verge upon despair; in this I concur, which is why I no longer live there, but still it's depressing for people everywhere. Chapter 9 (pp. 441–476) is a collection of the “Greatest Hits from the Mailbag”, a collection of real mail (and hilarious replies) akin to Fourmilab's own Titanium Cranium Awards.

This book is now out of print, and used copies currently sell at almost twice the original cover price.


War Department. Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain. Oxford: Bodelian Library, [1942] 2004. ISBN 978-1-85124-085-2.
Shortly after the entry of the United States into the European war following the attack on Pearl Harbor, U.S. troops began to arrive in Britain in 1942. Although more than two years would elapse before the D-Day invasion of Normandy, an ever-increasing number of “overpaid, oversexed, and over here” American troops would establish air bases, build logistics for the eventual invasion, and provide liaison with the British command.

This little (31 page, small format) book reproduces a document originally furnished to U.S. troops embarking for Britain as seven pages of typescript. It provides a delightful look at how Americans perceived the British at the epoch, and also how they saw themselves—there's even an admonishment to soldiers of Irish ancestry not to look upon the English as their hereditary enemies, and a note that the American colloquialism “I look like a bum” means something much different in an English pub. A handy table helps Yanks puzzle out the bewildering British money.

Companion volumes were subsequently published for troops bound for Iraq (yes, in 1943!) and France; I'll get to them in due course.


Klemperer, Victor. I Will Bear Witness. Vol. 1. New York: Modern Library, [1933–1941, 1995] 1998. ISBN 978-0-375-75378-7.
This book is simultaneously tedious, depressing, and profoundly enlightening. The author (a cousin of the conductor Otto Klemperer) was a respected professor of Romance languages and literature at the Technical University of Dresden when Hitler came to power in 1933. Although the son of a Reform rabbi, Klemperer had been baptised in a Christian church and considered himself a protestant Christian and entirely German. He volunteered for the German army in World War I and served at the front in the artillery and later, after recovering from a serious illness, in the army book censorship office on the Eastern front. As a fully assimilated German, he opposed all appeals to racial identity politics, Zionist as well as Nazi.

Despite his conversion to protestantism, military service to Germany, exalted rank as a professor, and decades of marriage to a woman deemed “Aryan” under the racial laws promulgated by the Nazis, Klemperer was considered a “full-blooded Jew” and was subject to ever-escalating harassment, persecution, humiliation, and expropriation as the Nazis tightened their grip on Germany. As civil society spiralled toward barbarism, Klemperer lost his job, his car, his telephone, his house, his freedom of movement, the right to shop in “Aryan stores”, access to public and lending libraries, and even the typewriter on which he continued to write in the hope of maintaining his sanity. His world shrank from that of a cosmopolitan professor fluent in many European languages to a single “Jews' house” in Dresden, shared with other once-prosperous families similarly evicted from their homes. His family and acquaintances dwindle as, one after another, they opt for emigration, leaving only the author and his wife still in Germany (due to lack of opportunities, but also to an inertia and sense of fatalism evident in the narrative). Slowly the author's sense of Germanness dissipates as he comes to believe that what is happening in Germany is not an aberration but somehow deeply rooted in the German character, and that Hitler embodies beliefs widespread among the population which were previously invisible before becoming so starkly manifest. Klemperer is imprisoned for eight days in 1941 for a blackout violation for which a non-Jew would have received a warning or a small fine, and his prison journal, written a few days after his release, is a matter of fact portrayal of how an encounter with the all-powerful and arbitrary state reduces the individual to a mental servitude more pernicious than physical incarceration.

I have never read any book which provides such a visceral sense of what it is like to live in a totalitarian society and how quickly all notions of justice, rights, and human dignity can evaporate when a charismatic leader is empowered by a mob in thrall to his rhetoric. Apart from the description of the persecution the author's family and acquaintances suffered themselves, he turns a keen philologist's eye on the language of the Third Reich, and observes how the corruption of the regime is reflected in the corruption of the words which make up its propaganda. Ayn Rand's fictional (although to some extent autobiographical) We the Living provides a similar sense of life under tyranny, but this is the real thing, written as events happened, with no knowledge of how it was all going to come out, and is, as a consequence, uniquely compelling. Klemperer wrote these diaries with no intention of their being published: they were, at most, the raw material for an autobiography he hoped eventually to write, so when you read these words you're perceiving how a Jew in Nazi Germany perceived life day to day, and how what historians consider epochal events in retrospect are quite naturally interpreted by those hearing of them for the first time in the light of “What does this mean for me?”

The author was a prolific diarist who wrote thousands of pages from the early 1900s throughout his long life. The original 1995 German publication of the 1933–1945 diaries as Ich will Zeugnis ablegen bis zum letzten was a substantial abridgement of the original document and even so ran to almost 1700 pages. This English translation further abridges the diaries and still often seems repetitive. End notes provide historical context, identify the many people who figure in the diary, and translate the foreign phrases the author liberally sprinkles among the text.

I will certainly read Volume 2, which covers the years 1942–1945, but probably not right away—after this powerful narrative, I'm inclined toward lighter works for a while.


Smith, Edward E. Masters of the Vortex. New York: Pyramid Books, [1960] 1968. ISBN 978-0-515-02230-8.
This novel is set in the Galactic Patrol universe, but is not part of the Lensman saga—the events take place an unspecified time after the conclusion of that chronicle. Galactic civilisation depends upon atomic power, but as Robert A. Heinlein (to whom this book is dedicated) observed, “Blowups Happen”, and for inexplicable reasons atomic power stations randomly erupt into deadly self-sustaining nuclear vortices, threatening to ultimately consume the planets they ravage. (Note that in the technophilic and optimistic universe of the Galactic Patrol, and the can-do society its creator inhabited, the thought that such a downside of an energy technology essential to civilisation would cause its renunciation never enters the mind.)

When a freak vortex accident kills ace nucleonicist Neal Cloud's family, he swears a personal vendetta against the vortices and vows to destroy them or be destroyed trying. This mild-mannered scientist who failed the Lensman entry examination re-invents himself as “Storm Cloud, the Vortex Blaster”, and in his eponymous ship flits off to rid the galaxy of the atomic plague. This is Doc Smith space opera, so you can be sure there are pirates, zwilniks, crooked politicians, blasters, space axes, and aliens of all persuasions in abundance—not to mention timeless dialogue like:

“Eureka! Good evening, folks.”
“Eureka? I hope you rot in hell, Graves…”
“This isn't Graves. Cloud. Storm Cloud, the Vortex Blaster, investigating…”
“Oh, Bob, the patrol!” the girl screamed.

It wouldn't be Doc Smith if it weren't prophetic, and in this book published in the year in which the Original Nixon was to lose the presidential election to John F. Kennedy, we catch a hint of a “New Nixon” as the intrepid Vortex Blaster visits the planet Nixson II on p. 77. While not as awe inspiring in scope as the Lensman novels, this is a finely crafted yarn which combines a central puzzle with many threads exploring characteristics of alien cultures (never cross an adolescent cat-woman from Vegia!), the ultimate power of human consciousness, and the eternal question never far from the mind of the main audience of science fiction: whether a nerdy brainiac can find a soulmate somewhere out there in the spacelanes.

If you're unacquainted with the Lensman universe, this is not the place to start, but once you've worked your way through, it's a delightful lagniappe to round out the epic. Unlike the Lensman series, this book remains out of print. Used copies are readily available although sometimes pricey. For those with access to the gizmo, a Kindle edition is available.


Simon, Roger L. Blacklisting Myself. New York: Encounter Books, 2008. ISBN 978-1-59403-247-9.
The author arrived in Hollywood in the tumultuous year of 1968, fired by his allegiance to the New Left and experience in the civil rights struggle in the South to bring his activism to the screen and, at the same time, driven by his ambition to make it big in the movie business. Unlike the multitudes who arrive starry-eyed in tinseltown only to be frustrated trying to “break in”, Simon succeeded, both as a screenwriter (he was nominated for an Oscar for his screen adaptation of Enemies: A Love Story and as a novelist, best known for his Moses Wine detective fiction. One of the Moses Wine novels, The Big Fix, made it to the screen, with Simon also writing the screenplay. Such has been his tangible success that the author today lives in the Hollywood Hills house once shared by Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe.

This is in large part a memoir of a life in Hollywood, with pull-no-punches anecdotes about the celebrities and players in the industry, and the often poisonous culture of the movie business. But is also the story of the author's political evolution from the New Left through Hollywood radical chic (he used to hang with the Black Panthers) and eventual conversion to neo-conservatism which has made him a “Hollywood apostate” and which he describes on the first page of the book as “the ideological equivalent of a sex change operation”. He describes how two key events—the O. J. Simpson trial and the terrorist attacks of 2001—caused him to question assumptions he'd always taken as received wisdom and how, once he did start to think for himself instead of nodding in agreement with the monolithic leftist consensus in Hollywood, began to perceive and be appalled by the hypocrisy not only in the beliefs of his colleagues but between their lifestyles and the values they purported to champion. (While Simon has become a staunch supporter of efforts, military and other, to meet the threat of Islamic aggression and considers himself a fiscal conservative, he remains as much on the left as ever when it comes to social issues. But, as he describes, any dissent whatsoever from the Hollywood leftist consensus is enough to put one beyond the pale among the smart set, and possibly injure the career of even somebody as well-established as he.)

While never suggesting that he or anybody else has been the victim of a formal blacklist like that of suspected Communist sympathisers in the 1940s and 1950s, he does describe how those who dissent often feign support for leftist causes or simply avoid politically charged discussions to protect their careers. Simon was one of the first Hollywood figures to jump in as a blogger, and has since reinvented himself as a New Media entrepreneur, founding Pajamas Media and its associated ventures; he continues to actively blog. An early adopter of technology since the days of the Osborne 1 and CompuServe forums, he believes that new technology provides the means for an end-run around Hollywood groupthink, but by itself is insufficient (p. 177):

The answer to the problem of Hollywood for those of a more conservative or centrist bent is to go make movies of their own. Of course, to do so means finding financing and distribution. Today's technologies are making that simpler. Cameras and editing equipment cost a pittance. Distribution is at hand for the price of a URL. All that's left is the creativity. Unfortunately, that's the difficult part.

A video interview with the author is available.