Special to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise
While shooting a Western on location in the Mojave desert, film star Don Rickles was bitten by a rattlesnake. A fatal seizure followed. Filming resumed immediately after burial of the snake.
~ Roving Reporter Ruth Buzzi, Laugh-in, 1967
Our wonderful publishers Cathy and Rylla Smith asked me to be Roving Reporter for their publication, L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise. I have accepted the opportunity. To start out, I thought I’d offer a quick overview of some of my roving over the years, followed by a few thoughts on the place where I am at present.
The very first trip I remember taking was when my parents moved our family from a house in Colonie, New York to Lawrence, Kansas. Two episodes stand out for me. We were in New York City briefly and Dad drove us through Midtown Manhattan. We all tried to look up to see the top of the Empire State Building as we drove past it. I remember thinking it was very tall. Later on that same trip we were in Missouri somewhere and Dad stopped for gasoline. The old style pump required manual pumping operation. Dad knew all about how to make it work from his time in the Army Signal Corps during the Second World War (as it is called). A stand-out recollection was the price per gallon, on a sign, 19.9 cents. I remember asking about the nine-tenths part, and finding the whole concept of federal gasoline taxes difficult to understand. Still do.
My dad was a nuclear physicist. Part of the motivation to move to Kansas was a tenure track position at the University of Kansas. I remember he and Mom travelled to the Philippines in 1968 where he taught nuclear physics. Later I would learn that he had been in Brazil and Norway before my eldest brother was born. I guess he was a kind of one-man nuclear proliferation guy.
The following year, we made a trip as a family to Hawai’i, Osaka, Tokyo, Kyoto, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Dad spent that Summer teaching nuclear physics at the national university near Taipei. We also visited Macau briefly on that trip. One very memorable trip to the beach included Dad filming some pillboxes left from the Japanese occupation that ended in 1945. He was asked by local security police to stop filming. We watched the Moon landing at the university’s community centre. Much of the narration was in Mandarin, but we could hear some of the astronaut conversations in the background.
While we were in Hawai’i we visited the national cemetery there. I remember my mom bringing flowers to the grave of her favourite cousin who had been recruited into the Marine Corps in 1940. He was killed on the island of Guadalcanal. The military seems to have decided that getting his body all the way back to St. Louis was too much trouble, so Mom had that one opportunity to visit his grave.
In 1971 we travelled up to Alaska in a Ford Astrovan towing a Coleman pop-up camper trailer. That was a very exciting adventure. I remember the song about the Alaska-Canada highway:
Winding in and winding out
It fills my mind with serious doubt
Whether the lout who built this route
Was going to hell or coming out.
A few years later, I was off to Mexico with a junior high school Spanish class. Our teacher, Mrs. Santee, taught us Mexican-dialect Spanish. She said that when negotiating at local markets, we should not ask “cuanto cuestan” or “what is the price” but “cuanto vale” or “how much is it worth?” because it would sometimes yield a lower number. We visited Mexico City, Teotihuacan, Taxco, and Acapulco on that trip.
High school ended and I was accepted at Columbia University as a John Jay Scholar. I’d also earned a National Merit Scholarship and some other support for my studies. So it was off to New York City. There were several trips across the states between Kansas and New York during the following years. I also got to visit Maine with my parents one year. Good lobster. My college years were not ones of very good judgement, perhaps, so I spent a weekend in New Hampshire stumping for John Glenn in 1984. That Summer, my best friend in college, William Baxter, and I took his belongings from New York (where I was working) across to Kansas, up to Milwaukee, over to Minneapolis, up to Regina, and across the Trans-Canadian highway to re-enter the USA near Bellingham, Washington. We got his stuff to graduate school at UC-Berkeley where he would later complete a PhD in knot topology.
The following year I was accepted into graduate studies at Rice University. So I spent a bit of time travelling between Houston and New York, as well as between Houston and Lawrence, Kansas. For my Summer internship in 1986, I worked at Space Services Incorporated of America. I encouraged them to survey university professors about payloads. Wrote them some business plans, some business proposals to various places for space launch work. Then we won the contract to launch the first Consort payload from the University of Alabama at Huntsville on our Starfire rocket.
That led to visits to Redstone Arsenal, White Sands Missile Range, and a few other places. I also interviewed at the TRW offices in Los Angeles and had quite a lot of fun with space conferences in Denver, Chicago, and elsewhere.
The year 1990 stands out for me because National Space Society director Gary Oleson asked my friend Howard Stringer, then-president of the Houston Space Society, to ask a question at our meeting at my home in the fifth month of that year. The question was, “What is the one thing the Houston Space Society could do in the next ten years that would do more than anything else to change the way people think about space.”
We were having a barbecue on the back deck at my home in Friendswood, Texas at the time. Somehow chicken bones ended up on the roof that day. We assembled about 1,100 copies of the Journal for Space Development which was the newsletter for our group. So when Howard asked me this question, it took me about a second to think of my answer, “We could put one of our members in orbit.”
Everyone at the time knew of the Soviets talking to John Denver about a trip to the Mir space station. So I spent the next few minutes learning how possible it would be. We all had heard the price was about $10 million. Alvin Carley suggested we raffle off the trip. David Mayer suggested we run a 900 number sweeptakes instead.
So that year, David and I travelled to Anaheim for the International Space Development Conference. Our friend and long time member of Houston Space Society Art Dula went to Moscow and came back with a contract to put an American on the Mir space station. We organised to give the trip away. Got into all kinds of trouble. Your roving reporter was arrested and spent 12 hours in “old Harris County” with sewage on the floor of the big holding cell and many signs noting that being there violated the terms of the Fifth Circuit Court’s intervention in jail practices in Houston.
As a result of that project we travelled to New Orleans, Omaha, and Las Vegas seeking a good domicile for our work. Nothing worked out. So I took a job in real estate development. Then I was contacted about selling posters for Star Trek: The Next Generation and spent a lot of time travelling to science fiction conventions. My 1991 trip to Chicago was memorable for speaking on a panel at Chicon V the World Science Fiction convention with Steve Jackson, who had also had memorable government visitors to his offices over his GURPS Cypherpunks game.
The following year, I began organising a science fiction convention in Houston. Also, I began thinking about where I might go to find a free country. The convention, Houston Future Fest, was not a financial success, as many first-time conventions are not. But Jerry Pournelle was a fun guy to host as guest of honour.
Late in 1993, I went to Las Vegas to work for The Atlantis Project. I returned to Houston to write my first book, detailing the constitution and some of the laws of the proposed new country. That led to meeting Courtney Smith who started the New Country Foundation and invited me to speak at its founding conference in New York in 1995. Also during that period, I studied Portuguese for a trip to Angola that never happened, but got a free ticket to Paris for a week. I also met Ralph Merkle at an Alcor gathering in Arizona.
My work on new countries led me to correspond with and later meet Michael van Notten and his good friend Spencer MacCallum. Michael and I travelled in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa quite a bit. The two of us spoke at Alberto Mingardi’s Against Leviathan conference in Milan in at the end of 2000. I studied Arabic and Somali and remember a handful of phrases in each. We never did get to found our free port on the Gulf of Aden, but we learned a great deal. I learned that Somalia has way too many governments.
We were not deterred by the difficulties after two planes downed three buildings in New York City. However, we determined to join forces with Doug Casey if he was willing. I took two huge business plan binders to Las Vegas for the Foundation for Economic Education’s FEEfest and Laissez Faire Books birthday party where Doug was speaking in the fifth month of 2002. He was kind enough to take the business plans from me. Later he would say that he thought I could write a business plan about anything. He and I met again in Puerto Vallarta that year.
Puerto Vallarta was a maudlin event for me. It was a world congress of the International Society for Individual Liberty which I had joined two years earlier. It was also when I read my eulogy for my friend Michael van Notten who passed away from complications due to socialised medicine in Europe.
Since 2002, I have travelled extensively in North America, with the goal of finding a free county coming to a fruitless end. There are none. If we are to have a free country, we must build one. Happily, there is opportunity to do so here and now.
I’ve lived in Texas, Kansas, Ohio, New Hampshire, Louisiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Colorado, and visited a bunch of other states since 2002. I stopped travelling internationally after 2006, but I will Zoom anywhere (though I prefer Jitsi for its open source encryption).
Paradox Valley I believe that if Ayn Rand had ever visited here, she would likely have envisioned Midas Mulligan and John Galt building free communities all over the Paradox Valley. The valley takes its name from a geologist who felt that the Dolores River cutting perpendicularly across the valley was paradoxical. The valley itself was formed by tectonic activity.
My first visit here was in 2019. I really enjoy this area. I’ve met pot growers, ranchers, realtors, local community support teams, school teachers, and many others in Paradox, Bedrock, Naturita, Nucla, and various homesteads. It is a place where people routinely keep and bear arms, leave their doors unlocked, and help their neighbours.
Your roving reporter would like your support for his travels to the San Francisco Bay Area this coming week and to New Hampshire for the Porcupine Freedom Festival at the end of this coming month. You can support my work in finding free communities and reporting on them here by donating through CashApp using the “cash tag” $houstonspacesociety which all goes to the non-profit, 501c3, Houston Space Society mentioned above. You can also support my work using Zelle to the same outfit.
If you have places, events, or activities you’d like me to visit, in person or by virtual presence, please let me know. Email me for my phone number which connects to various social media and encrypted messaging services.
Later this year I expect to be in New Orleans again for the New Orleans Investment Conference. I’m always happy to make time to visit a coffee shoppe to meet freedom enthusiasts or readers of this fine publication.
Jim Davidson is an author, entrepreneur, actor, dancer, and teacher. He is working on several projects to maintain knowledge in the ongoing endarkenment. Find some of his essays at FreedomLandDAO.com among other places. You can also connect with him on Gettr, Twitter, and Flote.app looking for user planetaryjim but Failbook logged him out so he’s not there any longer. Currently the best ways to support Jim’s work are through Zelle using his phone number or CashApp to $houstonspacesociety