Archive for January, 2014

Goodbye Jay Leno — Goodbye Television?

Next month — February 6th, to be precise — the NBC television network is forcing the retirement of their number one late night star — Tonight Show host Jay Leno — in favor of the talented but Tonight Show-ratings untested Jimmy Fallon, who currently follows Leno with Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. With rare exception, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno has held first place in the 11:35 PM ET/PT late-night time slot ratings since 1995, winning the late-night war for NBC against competition such as David Letterman on CBS, Jimmy Kimmel on ABC, and currently syndicated reruns on Fox.

In a 60 Minutes interview Sunday night Leno said he understood NBC’s decision to replace him with a younger host because Leno’s prime demographic is Baby-Boomers (including me, born in 1953) whereas Fallon’s prime demographic is Millennials — the age-demographic including my college-age daughter. According to Leno, NBC is worried that Fallon would jump ship to another network (most likely Fox) if they don’t give him The Tonight Show now. Apparently they are less worried that Jay’s loyal demographic — people closer to my age — will jump ship to watching David Letterman on CBS, a network known for programming to the Baby-Boomer demo in both prime-time and late night.

Jay LenoJimmy Fallon
Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon

I haven’t run the late-night numbers. But NBC programmers don’t have a crystal ball that assures The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon will have a viewership anywhere near as good as The Tonight Show with Jay Leno has established. We do know that in 2009 when Leno was originally replaced with Conan O’Brien the ratings for The Tonight Show plummeted so badly NBC begged Leno to come back to The Tonight Show from the disastrous 10:00 PM ET/PT weeknights time slot they tried The Jay Leno Show in, to keep Jay from jumping to another network’s late-night time slot.

I also haven’t run commercial-revenue comparisons between Baby-Boomers and Millennials. But I can’t see how late-night ad revenues could come out with higher commercial buy rates by preferentially advertising to Millennials. Not to put too fine a point on it but even with the drop in 401(K)’s, home equity losses, and worsening fixed-income-to-inflation ratios, Baby-Boomers tend to have a lot more disposal income than Millennials who are having a hard time getting a job, paying off student loans, and — if not living in the old bedroom in their parents’ house — struggling to afford groceries. Is NBC figuring on maintaining ad-rates replacing sponsors such as BMW and Kay Jewelers with Thunderbird and Cup Noodles? Or are they counting on future advertising from pot dispensaries?

Anecdotally, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno has been regularly programmed into my DVR because I enjoy his monologue, like his bits “Headlines” and “Jaywalking,” and — even though David Letterman is frequently hilarious — Jay isn’t an-anti-right-to-keep-and-bear-arms New York intellectual like Letterman and, being a gearhead, Jay doesn’t piss me off as often.

I watch Late Night with Jimmy Fallon only when he has a guest I want to see, because Fallon’s stand-ups are often repetitive and less polished, he wastes valuable airtime playing games with his guests instead of asking them anything penetrating (this is where Letterman is even better than Leno), and — if I’m to be honest when making a marginal-utility calculation regarding who gets the second hour of my late-night attention span — the funniest person to me on late-night week nights is Craig Ferguson, who follows Letterman on CBS.

All other things being equal, NBC’s decision to lose their lock on late-night for an untested 11:35 PM show with a less-rich viewership just doesn’t make sense.

Unless — as Louie C.K. says — “But maybe…”

But maybe the most important thing about Jimmy Fallon is that his bits frequently become worldwide trending hashtag topics on Twitter.

But maybe NBC is looking a few years down the line when the late-night time-slot wars are over because a lot more people will get their programming directly from web-based services like Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon, viewed either on smart phones and tablets, or connected to their big-screen monitors through Roku boxes and gaming consoles.

I may be a Baby Boomer but my Netflix and Amazon Prime subscriptions — connected with a Roku box to my living-room plasma screen — are already cutting the time I spend on my DirecTV channel line-up by half.

In the last 24 hours my daughter, away at college, didn’t ask me for a new TV set, like I might have asked my parents for at her age.

She asked to piggyback on my Netflix subscription.

The future, right there.

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Libertarian Success versus the Academic Mindset

In lengthy conversations I’ve been having recently with fellow libertarian Brad Linaweaver — whose novel Moon of Ice you see my character reading in the Alongside Night movie coming to a theater near you in a few months — we’ve been discussing the single-most important reason libertarians do worse than statists in gaining popular support for libertarianism as an overall approach to human relations.

Not to put too fine a point on it, way too many libertarians have their heads stuck up their asses.

Moon of Ice in Alongside Night
Moon of Ice in Alongside Night

It’s not that libertarians are unintelligent or anti-intellectual. Quite the contrary. Libertarians are readers. A lot of the time they’ve even read what C.S. Lewis would call “the right books” — books by great libertarian economists like Ludwig von Mises, F.A. Hayek, or Murray Rothbard; revisionist historians like James J. Martin; journalists like H.L. Mencken; and proto-libertarians like Frédéric Bastiat, Lysander Spooner, or Benjamin Tucker. Merely by giving this short list of examples a lot of libertarians would chide me for all the names that they think should be on this list, in addition or instead.

But – with one obvious exception that I’ll get to in a moment — the culture of libertarians reminds me of the 2009 Ricky Gervais comedy The Invention of Lying, where the idea of a popular movie is some guy in a chair narrating an historical event to the movie camera. Historically, libertarians are academic in their intellectual pursuits to the exclusion of most anything else.

The one prominent exception over the last half century has been the fiction of Ayn Rand, and that only because she gives her characters lengthy speeches that could pass as non-fiction in between the bodice-ripping sex scenes.

Yes, yes, yes. There are exceptions. There are libertarians who love science fiction — particularly by authors like Robert A. Heinlein, A.E. Van Vogt, Ray Bradbury, and more recently L. Neil Smith, Neal Stephenson, Brad Linaweaver and myself.

But being on the mainstream English lit department classic reading lists — authors including George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, or Kurt Vonnegut — would tend to attract many libertarians far more than any libertarian who made his reputation in pulp magazines, paperback anthologies, or — Galt forbid — writing primarily for commercial movies or network television.

Brad Linaweaver
Brad Linaweaver

Libertarians are too often academic snobs, and that’s true even of many of the auto-didacts.

This doesn’t mean there aren’t academics who are popular writers themselves.. Brad, for example, has a Masters degree from an ivy-league college and has taught high-school English; but Brad is as comfortable watching a monster movie or reading a comic book — and publishing the magazine Mondo Cult, devoted to pop culture — as he is on a panel at a scholar’s conference.

But academic snobbery is the death of libertarianism. I can’t tell you how many libertarian conferences I’ve been at where an economist has a room busting at the doors but a room featuring an award-winning novelist or filmmaker is lucky to fill the front row.

Back when the Laissez Faire Books catalog hadn’t been overwhelmed by and was still a primary source of libertarian books, non-fiction was regularly on the catalog’s cover. Unless you were Ayn Rand, a libertarian novel wasn’t — and the catalog didn’t even favor science fiction by libertarians over popular non-libertarian works by authors like Marion Zimmer Bradley.

This is a mistake the left never made, including the Communist Party, itself. They thought the Writers Guild — the men and women who wrote movies for the major Hollywood studios — was a union worth taking over because they knew — as Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels knew — movies were just as important as books or rallies when it came to reaching the “masses.”

Libertarians, like conservatives, spend their time bitching and moaning about the statist content in movies and TV shows — but when a libertarian who has studied the great libertarian thinkers and learned the issues presents these ideas in art rather than treatise or speech — the academic snob pretending to place libertarian values at a pinnacle is more likely either to ignore the libertarian artist entirely or attack the artwork as not sufficiently exalted. It’s a form of aristocratic establishmentarianism that shows up many so-called libertarians as movement scabs.

Most people reading this need to know that Brad Linaweaver and I are libertarian authors and filmmakers who have decades of success pushing libertarian ideas into the mainstream — most recently, me with my new movie Alongside Night, and most recently Brad with his web series, Silicon Assassin. We’ve made our entertainment products using professional crews and name actors. Between us we have over a century of experience studying our crafts, first as consumers, later as producers. We have received fulsome praise for our work from world class superstars. So neither us is going to suffer fools gladly who take a dump on our entertainment products because they’re too cloistered — and with the hubris of the solipsist — to know what’s good.

I have high hopes of using existing libertarian organizations and institutions as an opening market for my movie, but if the libertarian movement acts as it has done so for most of my career — and sticks its nose in their air — you can expect that the long list of Special Thanks to movement libertarians and organizations that I’ve put into the end credits of Alongside Night will be the last you hear from me. I just watched a documentary on J.D. Salinger. I know as well as he did how to disappear.

Now is the time for all good libertarians to come to the aid of their Movies.

In a few months — in Spring, 2014 — you’ll be invited to use your talents as entrepreneurs and organizers to set up movie-theater screenings for Alongside Night also showing episodes of Silicon Assassin and either make a profit for yourself by selling movie tickets, or using the ticket sales as fund raisers for your groups, campaigns, and causes.

This is your best hope in the near future to learn what your enemies have known forever: well-told stories presented in popular media are what change people’s lives and pivot the world.

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The Holistic Bill of Rights

An Agorist is a latter-day American Revolutionary who declares the government breaching the Bill of Rights nullifies the Constitution.

Harvey Weinstein and Greg Gutfeld are equally opposed to the Bill of Rights. It’s just that one can’t count to 2 and the other to 4.

I don’t use a monolithic talking-points approach in my defense of freedom.

My old mentor, Samuel Edward Konkin III, taught me that since all opponents of liberty pretend to be in favor of a holistic liberty — then either betray it from the right-wing or left-wing — the rhetorical technique is to come at them from their own ideological window and show them the contradictions to their own premises.

This week, in which movie mogul Harvey Weinstein attacked the Second Amendment right-to-keep-and-bear-arms from the left and Fox News star Greg Gutfeld attacked the Fourth Amendment right-to-be-secure-in-one’s-papers-and-effects from the right, had me using this technique of attacking liberty-opponents from their own flanks — back-to-back.

Here are the open letters I sent each of them.
–J. Neil Schulman

Open Letter to Harvey Weinstein

Harvey Weinstein
Harvey Weinstein

Dear Mr. Weinstein,

I’m the author and indie filmmaker, J. Neil Schulman. In the past I’ve hoped to work with you both in distribution of the two feature films I’ve already written, produced, and directed, and on future projects. I’ve enjoyed many of the films you’ve produced and I think if you took the time to get to know me you’d find that we have a lot of views in common when it comes to opposing the fascist/imperialist elements that dominate American politics.

Yet the one area where you most need to understand an alternative point of view is the issue of civilian ownership of firearms. You’ve been in the middle of a talking-points war between neo-Nixonians on the right and neo-Clintonistas on the left who agree on civilian disarmament, It’s a mistake the hard-left never made in supporting arming union workers against Pinkertons and the Black Panthers in arming blacks against Klan and other violent segregationists.

I also approach this question from the viewpoint of a Jew who has written that if the Jews of Germany had remained armed and kept a warrior spirit then Kristalnacht could have been the beginning of the end for the Nazi Party prior to World War 2.

As Sinclair Lewis warned in It Can’t Happen Here, fascism not only can happen in America, it already has. Your own movies about extreme renditions of innocent people and every kind of abuse of the Bill of Rights by multiple federal departments including Homeland Security and the NSA have proved that.

The last line of defense — the only thing that can be the bottom line in defending all the other Bill of Rights — is the ability of the American people to shoot back when fired on by stormtroopers — and I’m not making this about Barack Obama; it’s true of any imperial presidency of any party that has contempt for law, the people’s rights, and due process.

I’d love to show you my new movie, Alongside Night, that makes these points in dramatic form.


J. Neil Schulman
Alongside Night

Open Letter to Greg Gutfeld

Greg Gutfeld
Greg Gutfeld

Greg Gutfeld,

There is no balance between security measures that violate the rights of innocent people as enshrined in the Bill of Rights and the individual liberties those measures abridge or infringe.

A clear example of this was to be found on 9/11/2001 when the infringement of airline pilots’, flight attendants’, and passengers’ Second Amendment right to carry concealed handguns on board enabled a handful of committed terrorists armed with nothing more than boxcutters to take control of four jetliners which resulted not only in massive destruction to the financial and military headquarters of the United States and the deaths of almost 3,000 innocents but two wars in retribution with tens of thousands of more deaths and broken warriors plus trillions of dollars in war costs that could have been better spent in preserving our national economic health.

Protecting liberty and individual rights — not massive government bureaucracies in the Department of Homeland Security and the NSA — is the only practical approach to preserving a secure society as well. Any compromise to this principle is allowing the terrorists to win.

J. Neil Schulman
Pahrump, NV

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Breaking Better: Decriminalizing Agorist Markets

I just watched the entire series Breaking Bad in a few marathon sessions. This is my entire review, right here:

Breaking Bad is wonderful. Watch it if you love great, compelling drama with a lot of comic riffs. But watch only if you have a strong stomach.

Now let me move on to the point of this essay.

Breaking Bad Title Card

Breaking Bad shows us the operations of a counter-economic manufacturing and distribution industry: the production and sales of the mood-altering drug methamphetamine — meth, for short. Our primary viewpoint character is a chemist who is able to produce a higher-grade of meth than is otherwise available on the black market, eventually in clandestine laboratories able to manufacture mass-market quantities.

Now, Breaking Bad is a TV show, and it ran six seasons. So plot points needed to be dramatic, ironic, and extreme. The characters needed to be, well, characters.

So this was a series filled with characters who committed a lot of murders, thefts, and mayhem; lied their asses off with a straight face; and their promises were never straightforward but always conditional and capricious. Business disputes were as often as not resolved with violence, usually fatal.

But, even as fantasized drama, this TV series raises a lot of thoughtful challenges that need to be answered by the Agorist theoretician who is arguing for stateless Agorist markets that can eventually replace that monopoly of legitimized violence we tag the State. If we argue that a stateless solution can be both more practical and more capable of producing an ethically preferable outcome, we need to find solid ground to stand on.

Breaking Bad, if taken literally as a parable, pulls a lot of ground out from under the Agorist theoretician — and that’s as much of a problem for the Agorist as was the failure of Marxism to achieve its stated predictions.

Any theory has to be reality tested. If applying the theory does not produce results as advertised, but adverse unintended consequences, it’s back to the drawing board.

A lot of social theories are considered utopian — unrealistically optimistic — because success requires future actors within the paradigm to act better than historical actors.

The Breaking Bad challenge to the Agorist is simply this: how can you operate in an illegal marketplace with the expectation that criminal personalities will not dominate it? And by criminal personalities I mean people whose ordinary, every day choices include every form of human rights violation that we Agorists despise: murder, robbery, fraud, physical abuse and mayhem, enslavement, and threats and intimidation using all of the above in order to manipulate a desired outcome.

I am not prepared at this point to answer the Breaking Bad challenge exhaustively. But I do think I have a few opening ideas that I hope will provoke further discussion among other Agorists.

  1. Agorist markets need to be decriminalized. I am not using the word “decriminalize” as a euphemism for “legalize.” As one who sees the State and its functions as hopelessly dysfunctional, the whole point of Agorism is not to seek permission from the State to engage in a commercial enterprise but to operate without such permission yet achieve marketplaces which thrive on and reward honesty, decency, and honor. Immediately this provokes the challenge of not attempting to achieve a utopian result by the goal of seeking New Libertarian Man — but merely by demanding in underground marketplaces business standards equal to or superior to businesses operating in the legal, above-ground markets. So by “decriminalize” I literally mean driving criminals out of the black market.
  2. A marketplace in a product or service tends to reflect the standards of the consumer. For example, a slave factor would be out of business if there were no customers who wanted to buy slaves. There would be no market for “organic” food products if there were not consumers who prefer products with fewer artificial additives and kinder treatment of animals bred as food. Tuna cans would not be labelled as “dolphin safe” if its consumers had not been made aware that the tuna-fishing industry was making dolphins collateral damage to their harvesting methods. So perhaps marketing methamphetamine or cocaine to a class of consumers who are solely interested in getting high without a thought to the human rights violations used in the manufacture and distribution of their product should not be the first choice for Agorists whose intent is to free markets from Statist domination. Is it really unacceptable to suggest that fulfulling the needs of more enlightened consumers might be a better first step in building Agorist markets?
  3. The very statist police agencies who enforce statist laws may find common cause with Agorists who have a desire to decriminalize Agorist markets. The idea of the “snitch” or “rat” needs to mean one thing and one thing only: turning in to the State honest and decent underground businesspeople who abide by their words, stand behind the quality of their products, and reject violence as a means of dispute settlement. Turning in the violent criminal to the State is the exile from the Agora of those who do not respect the Agora.
  4. Using violence to enforce a monopoly on sales territory is probably the single most destructive thing to the advancement and expansion of Agorist marketplaces. Markets work by bringing buyers and sellers together so markets can clear products. The Cartel system by which sales “turfs” are monopolized by violence against competitors is nothing other than importing all the worst traits of statism into underground markets. Agorism and Cartelism are polar opposites. The Agorist has no goal more important than either destroying the Cartel or convincing the Cartelite of the superiority and greater profitability of the Agorist marketplace.

Agorism, according to its founder Samuel Edward Konkin III, is libertarianism in practice. Libertarianism is the new manual for operating human commerce that is premised on the Zero Aggression Principle: violence is only rightful when used against an aggressor, and the “collateral damage” to the innocent bystander is to be deplored, minimized a much as humanly possible, and repaired to whatever extent possible when this standard has not been met.

The wonderful TV series Breaking Bad is a set of counterfactuals that tell us how not to operate an Agorist Underground.

Agorism, if it is to succeed, needs to learn that lesson and find both practical and moral solutions to its intellectual challenges.

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