(image) Over the last decade or so, American pop culture has discovered the Krampus: a demonic Austrian counterpart to St. Nicholas who threatens kids with cruel punishments while the saint promises them rewards. In The Krampus and the Old, Dark Christmas (Feral House), Al Ridenour explores the Old World's spooky, raucous Krampus festivities, with side trips that cover Yuletide witches, Yuletide werewolves, and other signs of "a deep-rooted European understanding of Christmas as a time of supernatural mayhem."
In theory, Ridenour writes, the Krampus today is "an enforcer of social norms," punishing children who misbehave. But any close look at Krampus practices reveals a rather different impulse at work as well: In these carnivalesque traditions, participants are "freed to act out" and to "create tumult wherever they go." Over the centuries, anxious authorities have tried to ban or tightly regulate these anarchic rites. But whatever short-term victories they won, the idea of the Krampus kept thriving.
2016-11-06T06:00:00-05:00In the year of Trump, the 1957 film A Face in the Crowd has had more cameos in the political columns than any other revival-house staple. Pundit after pundit has pointed to the picture to explain the rise of the Republican nominee. That may say more about a certain segment of Donald Trump's foes than it does about Trump or his following. The movie traces its roots to a tipsy conversation screenwriter Budd Schulberg once had with Will Rogers Jr., the son of the folksy cowboy humorist. "My father was so full of shit," Rogers declared, "because he pretends he's just one of the people, just one of the guys...but in our house the only people that ever came as guests were the richest people in town, the bankers and the power brokers of L.A." That comment inspired Schulberg's short story "Your Arkansas Traveler," and that story became the seed of A Face in the Crowd, scripted by Schulberg and directed by Elia Kazan. The picture has long been popular with people who fear the place where populism meets pop culture. The movie begins with Marcia Jeffries visiting a county jail in Arkansas. Jeffries is a starry-eyed Sarah Lawrence grad who works for her uncle's rural radio station; she learned in college that "real American music comes from the bottom up," and she's delighted to discover a singing and storytelling drifter doing time for drunk and disorderly conduct. The prisoner is Lonesome Rhodes, played by Andy Griffith as a magnetic bundle of appetites, and his mix of country music and unfiltered philosophizing becomes popular on her uncle's radio outlet, and then on a larger-market television outlet, and finally on a national TV show transmitted from New York. Rhodes turns out to be not just a natural entertainer but a natural advertiser: Between his charisma and his frenzied fan base, he boosts the sales of everything from mattresses to energy supplements. The story takes a turn when Rhodes starts applying his techniques to politics, pitching an ultraconservative senator with the talents he'd been using to pitch consumer goods. (The movie signals that the senator is a bad guy by calling him "the last of the isolationists" and by having him criticize Social Security.) Just as the dark night of reaction is about to fall upon the land, Jeffries sabotages Rhodes by flicking his mic back on when he thinks a TV broadcast is over. Suddenly his audience hears him mocking them: "Those morons out there? Shucks, I sell them chicken fertilizer as caviar....They're a lot of trained seals. I toss them a dead fish and they'll flap their flippers." His former fans rebel and the republic is saved. The movie wasn't a hit when it came out, but it has had a long shelf life. That's partly because of Griffith, who gave the best performance of his career: a vortex of villainous charm that can shock viewers used to the genial TV sheriff he played later. But it's also because the picture speaks to a set of social anxieties that haven't disappeared: fears of television, advertising, popular culture, and demotic demagoguery. If a politician wanders over from the entertainment industry, and if his views even superficially resemble Rhodes', someone is bound to bring up Kazan and Schulberg's picture. (Kazan himself declared that it "anticipated Ronald Reagan.") It's no surprise that we've been hearing about it throughout this election season. "Rarely and perhaps not in modern times has a presidential campaign more resembled the classic 1957 film, A Face in the Crowd," the conservative columnist Cal Thomas announced. At the other end of the spectrum, a scribe at The Nation informed us that "Lonesome Rhodes has come to life in the form of Donald Trump." CNN ran a story headlined "Did this movie predict Trump's rise?" The Washington Post's Marc Fisher declared that A Face in the Crowd set "the template" for "Trump's rule-smashing romp." Several pundits fantasized that a gaffe would trip up Trump the way Lonesome Rhodes' hot-mic moment brought him down. A writer in the Orlando Sentinel jumped the gun by suggesting a Trum[...]
Spontaneous cooperation, not social chaos, is the norm after a natural or technological disaster. That fact looms large in Jacob Remes' Disaster Citizenship (University of Illinois Press), a book that looks at two devastating events—a 1914 fire in Salem, Massachusetts, and a 1917 shipyard explosion in Halifax, Nova Scotia—and shows what happened when that grassroots mutual aid ran headfirst into the Progressive Era's passion for rule by "expert" professionals.
Remes examines everything from ethnic networks to labor politics to the battle for control of government aid. (The people of Salem and Halifax were often happy to take the help, but only on their own terms.) As an undergrad at Yale, Remes took a class from Seeing Like a State author James C. Scott, and a very Scottian theme runs through all of the book's nuances and distinctions: the clash between an "organic, emergent order" and a power structure for whom that order was "inherently illegible and unknowable."
Many Missouri towns, especially in the St. Louis area, are infamous for using speed traps, draconian court fees, and other types of traffic-court piracy to keep their budgets in the black. A recent reform was aimed at reining in these abuses, but in March a judge struck down several aspects of the law.
Before the bill took effect earlier this year, towns could get as much as 30 percent of their revenue from traffic enforcement. Under the new order, the ceiling in most of the state was lowered to 20 percent. But in "any county with a charter form of government and with more than nine hundred fifty thousand inhabitants"—that is, in St. Louis County only—it was pushed much lower, to 12.5 percent.
The law was clearly having an effect. St. Ann, a tiny town that relied on a speed trap for much of its revenue, responded by laying off 10 cops. Another mini-city, Charlack, dissolved its force entirely and contracted instead with a local police cooperative. But on March 28, Circuit Judge Jon E. Beetem ruled that the provisions singling out St. Louis County were forbidden under the Missouri constitution. The 20 percent cap will now be imposed across the state evenly.
Beetem also struck down a statewide requirement that towns submit annual reports on the revenues they receive from traffic violations and related court costs, deeming this an unfunded mandate. Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster plans to appeal the ruling.
(image) "Hippie modernism" may sound like a contradiction in terms. But it's not a bad description for a certain sensibility of the 1960s and '70s, when the counterculture's utopian dreams found room for cybernetic technology, experimental architecture, new media, and avant-garde art.
Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia (Walker Art Center), a mammoth book pegged to an exhibition now touring the country, aims to illuminate that era of Fuller domes and Be-Ins. Its essays are a mixed bag: There is interesting history here, and sometimes there are thoughtful critiques, but there is also a lot of jargon and ideological ax-grinding. (Inevitably, someone links the Whole Earth Catalog to "the dawn of neoliberalism.")
But it's always great to look at—not just for the old art and artifacts that it reproduces but for its own retro hippie-modernist design, with pages that look like they were torn from the Catalog or Radical Software or, for that matter, an early issue of reason.
2016-07-17T06:00:00-04:00P.J. O'Rourke once called Hillary Clinton "a chowder-skull" and "a bossy little rich snoot of a goody-two-shoes." So it surprised a lot of people when the political humorist announced that he's voting for her. Clinton, O'Rourke said on the May 7 episode of the NPR show Wait Wait…Don't Tell Me!, was "the second worst thing that could happen to this country. But she's way behind in second place, you know? She's wrong about absolutely everything. But she's wrong within normal parameters!" Of the presumptive Republican nominee, he warned: "They've got this button, you know? It's in a briefcase. He's gonna find it." Rand Paul once called Donald Trump "a delusional narcissist and an orange-faced windbag" and said "a speck of dirt is way more qualified to be president." But the Kentucky senator—who, like O'Rourke, occupies the ideological space between a libertarian and a conservative—affirmed in April that if Trump won the Republican nomination, he would support him. "I think we never get the candidate we exactly want unless you're the candidate," he said at a press conference. "Think about it from this perspective. I'm from Kentucky, and Hillary Clinton recently said she would put coal miners out of business, and she would put coal companies out of business." It's not unusual for libertarians to have a hard time backing either major party's presidential candidate, but the dispiriting choice between Clinton and Trump has even the most Republican-friendly members of the movement holding their noses. So reason decided to ask some prominent libertarian and libertarian-leaning figures which candidate offends them more. Unlike O'Rourke and Paul, the people surveyed below are not making endorsements here—many will be voting for a third-party candidate or staying home. They're answering a simpler question: not Who will you vote for? but Which one of these two is worse? Radley Balko Washington Post blogger and former reason staffer"Ugh. I guess I'd say Trump is worse. Clinton is at least a known commodity, and clearly better on trade and immigration, though even those are grading on a steep curve. Trump seems marginally less enthusiastic about starting wars, but who knows? He's been all over the place. On criminal justice, Clinton has a proven record of awfulness, but has vaguely vowed to do better. Trump has a record of demagoguing crime, has brought horrendous people like Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie into his campaign, and has vowed a heaping pile of more awfulness as president. So I guess that one goes to Clinton. I'd imagine Clinton would be a standard center-left Democrat on tax, spend, and regulatory issues. Trump's policies could well be economically calamitous. So again, a begrudging nod to Clinton. "It's probably also worth noting that as a white guy, I'm of a demographic that has the least to fear from a Trump presidency (and there's still plenty to fear). For Latinos, blacks, and Muslims, the prospect must be terrifying. So I guess in short, I'm thinking Clinton would be terrible. But Trump would be worse, and could be catastrophic." Dave Barry novelist and newspaper columnist"Speaking strictly as humor columnist, I believe that a Trump presidency would probably be funnier, assuming you don't care what happens to the nation. Whereas a Clinton presidency would be mainly grim. On the other hand—again, assuming you don't care what happens to the nation—it might be SO grim that it would actually be funny. "So bottom line, I think that when the time comes to go into the voting booth and make a decision, I will just kill myself." David Boaz executive vice president of the Cato Institute"I've heard libertarians say, 'We know how bad Hillary is, so the mysterious Trump is a better bet.' But we do know much about Trump. He's been clear and consistent on a few issues: banning and deporting Mexicans, building a wall around America, banning Muslims, and taking a sledgehamme[...]
2016-07-15T06:00:00-04:00No two Trump rallies are alike, but the same tribes seem to form at every one. There are the supporters, a varied assortment of locals who want Donald Trump to be president. There are the protesters, a varied assortment of locals who want Donald Trump to get lost. There are the cops, who are supposed to keep the supporters and the protesters from killing each other. There are the vendors, self-employed peddlers who follow the candidate from town to town, hawking T-shirts, buttons, playing cards, hats, and other Trump-themed products. There are the gawkers, curiosity-seekers who blend in with the supporters but sometimes give themselves away by making wry jokes about the carnival bustling around them. And there is the press, stumbling about with pens and cameras, awkwardly asking strangers if they'd be willing to answer a few questions. That's me. By the time I arrived at my first Trump rally, at the Times Union Center in Albany eight days before the New York primary, the events had acquired a reputation as incubators of mob violence. At an October speech in Miami, some Trump fans had attacked a group of protesters as the latter were ejected from the venue, kicking one in the knee and slamming another on the back with a Trump sign. At a November rally in Birmingham, a demonstrator had been punched, kicked, and choked. There were a flurry of assaults in March: the Louisville Trump supporters who shoved a woman; the guy who sucker-punched a protester as he was being led out of a rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina; the Tucson man who snatched a sign from a heckler and started hitting and kicking him with abandon. In Chicago, brawls broke out between pro- and anti-Trump factions as they waited for the candidate to appear. Trump wound up cancelling the rally, citing safety concerns and claiming that police had advised him to pull the plug. (The Chicago police deny that any such advice was issued.) So when the pundits discuss Trump rallies, the talk tends to take on an apocalyptic tone. Writing in New York magazine, Andrew Sullivan described the disorder as the "embryonic form" of fascistic "organized street violence." The Hartford Courant ran an op-ed under the headline "Hostile Trump Rallies Echo Days Of Mob Rule." Rachel Maddow declared on MSNBC that Trump was "inarguably" ginning up violence on purpose, the plan being then to present himself as the strongman who can stop it. The Trump team, for its part, argues that it's the protesters who are the really violent ones, a line that goes at least as far as the candidate's comment on March 10 that some demonstrators were "bad dudes" who "get in there and start hitting people." No one has been able to corroborate that claim, though some protesters have been violent since then—besides the fighting in Chicago, there were the anti-Trump militants in Costa Mesa, California, and Albuquerque, New Mexico, who threw rocks and beer bottles outside rallies. And at press time, protesters at a Trump event in San Jose randomly punched and threw eggs at the candidate's supporters. So there are just enough cherry-pickable facts for two rival narratives to emerge, one where the Trump fans are a mindless mob being incited by a demagogue and one where they're merely defending themselves from a mob on the other side. Yet most of the people who come to these rallies are peaceful, whether they love Trump or hate him; any portrait that reduces either side to a feral gang isn't accurate. Crowds are not big Borgs that sap people of their individuality, and the culture of these particular crowds is complicated, especially when you start comparing one rally to another. In Albany, most of the supporters and protesters I encountered took a fairly good-natured view of the opposite tribe. Jeering at each other outside the arena, they seemed more like the fans of rival hockey teams than like Red Guard factions preparing to pummel e[...]
2016-05-01T12:00:00-04:00The Texas press didn't know what to make of Wilbert Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel, the eccentric businessman, broadcaster, and bandleader who plunged suddenly into the Democratic primary during the state's 1938 gubernatorial race. They certainly didn't expect O'Daniel to get anywhere. He had no political experience. For most of his life, he hadn't been a Democrat. He hadn't paid his poll tax, so he couldn't even vote for himself. Surely, they reasoned, the voters would instead choose one of the established leaders in the race—probably Railroad Commissioner Ernest Thompson or Attorney General William McCraw. Or maybe Tom Hunter, an oilman from Wichita Falls who had run for the office several times before. Meanwhile, O'Daniel embarked on a 20,000-mile trek across Texas. The candidate would roll into town in a long white bus with a little stage atop it. Huge crowds would swarm in to see the show: 3,000 in Colorado City, 15,000 in Cleburne, 22,000 in Austin, 25,000 in Waco. Pappy's band would play a few country tunes, and then the solidly built radio star with the slicked-back hair would join them, alternating parts of his stump speech with more songs. They come to town with their guitars/And now they're smoking' big cigars, he'd croon. Them hillbillies are politicians now. At first the papers barely noticed O'Daniel's tour through the state. (The Fort Worth Star-Telegram didn't bother to mention his massive Waco rally until three days after it happened.) When it became clear that something big was afoot, they argued that no one could tell whether the crowds consisted of supporters or just gawkers. Did those mobs actually agree with O'Daniel's vague platform? the pundits asked. Or were they only there to enjoy, in the words of the syndicated columnists Drew Pearson and Robert Allen, "a mellifluous radio voice that women gush over and a hill-billy band that delights both young and old"? When the Star-Telegram finally acknowledged that Pappy was attracting "larger and more enthusiastic crowds than any other candidate," it added that many members of those audiences were nonvoters and wondered whether the movement was a "bubble." All the while the carnival kept getting bigger, until finally it took over the Lone Star State. When the Democrats of Texas cast their ballots, O'Daniel won about 30,000 more votes than every other candidate combined. He went on to defeat the Republican (in Texas in those days, the Democrat always defeated the Republican) and moved his broadcast base into the governor's mansion. Long before Donald Trump threw his hair into the ring, Pappy O'Daniel's radio-sparked campaigns ushered in an era that effaced the lines between popular culture and politics, paving the way not just for Trump but for Jesse Ventura, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kinky Friedman, and every other politician who started with a fan base instead of an exploratory committee. If you want to know how a reality TV star can open a presidential primary season with a second-place finish in Iowa and then victories in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada, O'Daniel's tale is a fine place to begin. 'That's What Brings 'Em In, Boys' Pappy O'Daniel was not the first man to mix mass culture with political power. William Randolph Hearst had used his newspapers to propel himself into Congress several decades earlier, and before then the circus impresario P.T. Barnum had gotten himself elected to a couple of offices in Connecticut. Nor was O'Daniel the first to use radio as a political tool. Earlier in the '30s, the broadcaster-cum-quack John R. Brinkley, best known for telling listeners he could cure their ailments by transplanting goat glands into their bodies, had run for governor of Kansas. And of course Franklin Roosevelt had promoted policies to the public in his so-called fireside chats. But unlike Barnum, Hearst, and other pre-radio pols, O'Daniel was a[...]
(image) Conservatives often claim that the total state was born in the ashes of 1789. That's truer than they may imagine: While the Jacobins were certainly pioneers of political policing, the same was true of the Old Order regimes that responded to the threat of revolution by building up police states of their own. Adam Zamovski's magnificent Phantom Terror (Basic Books) tells this tale, showing how governments across Europe reacted to revolutionary activity—and, much more often, to entirely imaginary revolutionary conspiracies—by erecting systems of surveillance, censorship, and control.
Figures like Prince Metternich come across as reactionary fantasists jumping at shadows: They see the hand of the Illuminati or some other subversive secret society behind anything that might erode their power, yet are caught unprepared when real revolts finally break out. In the meantime, networks of informants keep finding creative ways to feed their rulers' fantasies by telling officials what they want to hear.
2016-02-25T09:30:00-05:00The Texas press didn't know what to make of Wilbert Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel, the eccentric businessman, broadcaster, and bandleader who plunged suddenly into the Democratic primary during the state's 1938 gubernatorial race. They certainly didn't expect him to get anywhere. He had no political experience. For most of his life, he hadn't been a Democrat. He hadn't paid his poll tax, so he couldn't even vote for himself. Surely, they reasoned, the voters would instead choose one of the established leaders in the race—probably Railroad Commissioner Ernest Thompson or Attorney General William McCraw. Or maybe Tom Hunter, an oilman from Wichita Falls who had run for the office several times before. Meanwhile, O'Daniel embarked on a 20,000-mile trek across Texas. The candidate would roll into town in a long white bus with a little stage atop it. Huge crowds would swarm in to see the show: 3,000 in Colorado City, 15,000 in Cleburne, 22,000 in Austin, 25,000 in Waco. Pappy's band would play a few country tunes, and then the solidly built radio star with the slicked-back hair would join them, alternating parts of his stump speech with more songs. They come to town with their guitars/And now they're smoking big cigars, he'd croon. Them hillbillies are politicians now. At first the papers barely noticed O'Daniel's tour through the state. (The Fort Worth Star-Telegram didn't bother to mention his massive Waco rally until three days after it happened.) When it became clear that something big was afoot, they argued that no one could tell whether the crowds consisted of supporters or just gawkers. Did those mobs actually agree with O'Daniel's vague platform? the pundits asked. Or were they only there to enjoy, in the words of the syndicated columnists Drew Pearson and Robert Allen, "a mellifluous radio voice that women gush over and a hill-billy band that delights both young and old"? When the Star-Telegram finally acknowledged that Pappy was attracting "larger and more enthusiastic crowds than any other candidate," it added that many members of those audiences were nonvoters and wondered whether the movement was a "bubble." All the while the carnival kept getting bigger, until finally it took over the Lone Star State. When the Democrats of Texas cast their ballots, O'Daniel won about 30,000 more votes than every other candidate combined. He went on to defeat the Republican (in Texas in those days, the Democrat always defeated the Republican) and moved his broadcast base into the governor's mansion. Long before Donald Trump threw his hair into the ring, Pappy O'Daniel's radio-sparked campaigns ushered in an era that effaced the lines between popular culture and politics, paving the way not just for Trump but for Jesse Ventura, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kinky Friedman, and every other politician who started with a fan base instead of an exploratory committee. If you want to know how a reality TV star can open a presidential primary season with a second-place finish in Iowa and then victories in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada, O'Daniel's tale is a fine place to begin. 'That's What Brings 'Em In, Boys' Pappy O'Daniel was not the first man to mix mass culture with political power. William Randolph Hearst had used his newspapers to propel himself into Congress several decades earlier, and before then the circus impresario P.T. Barnum had gotten himself elected to a couple of offices in Connecticut. Nor was O'Daniel the first to use radio as a political tool. Earlier in the '30s, the broadcaster-cum-quack John R. Brinkley, best known for telling listeners he could cure their ailments by transplanting goat glands into their bodies, had run for governor of Kansas. And of course Franklin Roosevelt had promoted policies to the public in his so-called fireside chats. But unlik[...]
In September the FBI released its annual report on crime in America, bringing the publicly available data up to the end of 2014. While elements of both the left and the right speak as though we're in the midst of a crime surge—the former in discussions of gun control, the latter in discussions of criminal justice reform—the FBI paints a less fearful picture.
Overall, the agency found that the violent crime rate declined in 2014—by 1 percent from the previous year, by 9.6 percent from five years before, and by 22.1 percent from 10 years before. The rate for murder and non-negligent manslaughter was 1.2 percent lower than one year earlier, 6.1 percent lower than five years earlier, and 20.8 percent lower than 10 years earlier.
Robbery, burglary, larceny, and car theft all continued to drop as well. Motor vehicle thefts showed the biggest reduction from a decade before, with the rate sliding 48.1 percent.
The FBI's talliers recently revised their definition of rape, making cross-year comparisons difficult. But using the older definition, the crime increased slightly, by 1.6 percent, from 2013 to 2014. The rate was still 17.2 percent lower than 10 years earlier. The one other major crime rate that increased since 2013 was aggravated assault, which went up 1.2 percent. But that too saw a dramatic decrease in the last decade, going down 20.1 percent.
2015 may turn out to be another story. But as of the last year for which we have the data, crime was continuing its long decline.
(image) For decades, a statue of Vladimir Lenin had stood in a square adjacent to a factory in Odessa. The sculpture's days were numbered: In April 2015, Ukraine's parliament passed a law banning the former Soviet republic's remaining Communist monuments. But instead of dismantling the figure, the factory allowed artist Alexander Milov to transform it. Lenin is now Darth Vader.
The October unveiling ceremony brought out Ukrainians dressed as Chewbacca, as imperial Stormtroopers, and as Lord Vader himself. (The latter delivered a speech.) The revamped statue's head contains a Wi-Fi router, allowing people in the area to enjoy access to the Internet.
Milov, a proponent of the heritage-not-hate school of art appreciation, says that if it were up to him, the old Communist monuments wouldn't be demolished. Instead, "I want to take the statues out of the central squares of cities and put them in a different place like Disneyland, where they can be visited," he told the BBC in October. "It seems to me that if these statues are destroyed, people coming after us will have no possibility to make conclusions for themselves as to whether people needed them or not."
And if he can't preserve the stone Communists as they were? In that case, he said, he'd go a step beyond his Star Wars fan art. "I would turn them into characters from Soviet cartoons."
(image) In 1997, battered by their country's civil war, approximately 1,500 campesinos from San José, Colombia, established a zone they called the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartada. Henceforth, no armed groups would be welcome in their territory, be they leftist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries, or soldiers and police.
In The Power of Staying Put, a monograph published by the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, Juan Masullo Jimenéz notes that 210 community members were assassinated in the ensuing years. But the villagers dug in, grew stronger, recovered a lot of the land they'd lost to the paramilitaries, and created a neutral, autonomous island in a civil war. Along the way, he adds, they created a self-managed community capable of "carrying out several state-like activities and building institutions...from which the state was left out." These functions include education, conflict resolution, building trails, keeping common areas clean, and running the local cacao operation.
If you want a personalized license plate in Maryland, you shouldn't bother asking for DAAAMN. GAY and LESBIAN are out too, and so are COP and CIA. And don't even think about KILLER, MURDER1, or GOPOSTL. They're all on the state's constantly updated "objectionable plate list," along with more than 4,600 others.
The Baltimore Sun acquired the current version of the list in August and posted a sampling of the banned words online. Broadly speaking, you can't get a term on your plate that's meant to deceive people (so no MAYOR or FEDCOP), that alludes to something illegal (so no MAFIA or DEALER), that is sexual or scatalogical (so no DOWNLO or BEDWETR), or that, as the paper put it, conveys "messages about a group's race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or disability" (so no ARYAN or NAACP).
To see more of the prohibited plates, go to data.baltimoresun.com/banned-license-plates. The most creative of the lot is probably unknown. I don't mean I'm not sure: I mean the word UNKNOWN is banned too.
2015-12-01T06:00:00-05:00As the year draws to a close, our staff looks back at the books, movies, and other media released in 2015 and suggests a slew of gift ideas. Whatever you decide to buy for your family and friends this holiday season, please buy it here—a portion of your Amazon purchases will go to help support Reason. Ronald Bailey, science correspondent With The Evolution of Everything, the British science journalist Matt Ridley offers a sweeping and highly readable distillation of insights about humanity's history and future prospects. Ridley makes the case that the Darwinian process of random mutation followed by non-random survival is a "special theory of evolution" that is embedded in a more "general theory of evolution that applies to much more than biology." Decentralized evolution by trial and error, he argues, is the chief way improvements have emerged in all sorts of human endeavor, including "morality, the economy, culture, language, technology, cities, firms, education, history, law, government, God, money, and society." Incremental, bottom-up, trial-and-error innovation yields moral progress, superior technologies, and greater wealth. Top-down mandates from centralized authorities are more likely to produce ethical disasters, technological stagnation, and persistent poverty. "Bad news is man-made, top-down, purposed stuff, imposed on history," Matt Ridley writes. "Good news is accidental, unplanned, emergent stuff that gradually evolves." Brian Doherty, senior editor Critic, poet, and British TV personality Clive James has been publicly dying of leukemia since 2010. But he is still hanging on, and another collection of his literary essays, Latest Readings, was issued this year from Yale University Press. James is brilliant (“a national consciousness is formed by secondary writing rather than by serious writing”; “Usually it take a whole bunch of us to understand anything, so anyone who thinks he can do the whole thing by himself is almost certainly a crackpot”), he is funny (“American cultural imperialism...the branch of American global dominance that actually works”; David Halberstam “checks his facts until they weep with boredom”), and he is humane, not posing as if his erudition means he’s remembered everything he’s read and is laying it on you as an intellectual weight you ought to man up and bear. James writes of Hitler that he “had the con man’s knack of making himself seem profoundly steeped in any subject just by the fluency with which he could learn a list of facts and reel them off.” James’s fluency in humane letters shows its profundity through a richness not of facts but of aperçus, strewn for sheer enjoyment’s sake and with such fecundity that the reader won’t stress unduly about leaving some excess laying around uncollected. James’s critical skill is not so much the power to convince you to read what he loves, but to feel that if a mind that sharp, with a command of language so equally precise and expansive, has reacted to the work and injected that experience directly into your intellectual pleasure centers, maybe you can guiltlessly skip the work altogether. This, too, is a gift. Anthony Fisher, writer/producer Josh Wilker's Benchwarmer—subtitled "A Sports-Obsessed Memoir of Fatherhood"—follows up his previous memoir, Cardboard Gods, which depicted his childhood and young adulthood through the prism of the lesser-known faces of his baseball card collection. In this iteration, Wilker takes you through the joy, terror and humiliations of his first year of new fatherhood in the form of a sports almanac. Entries on undistinguished former professional athletes ("I miss Bubby Brister. Sh[...]