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Preview: Brian Doherty: Reason Magazine articles.

Brian Doherty: Reason.com articles.





Updated: 2017-04-27T00:00:00-04:00

 



We Told You So

2017-04-02T00:00:00-04:00

Like most comics devotees of the late 20th century, Gary Groth—co-founder of America's leading publisher of high-quality comics, Fantagraphics Books—started off as a superhero obsessive. But Groth grew out of that passion, and he loved a good fight. So in the mid-'70s he started slamming his aesthetic foes and advocating for smarter, more literary, more adult comics in his pugnacious and brilliant magazine The Comics Journal. By the early 1980s, he was seeking out and publishing such comics despite the total lack of a demonstrated market for such things.

Over the next four decades, Fantagraphics launched or elevated the careers of many of modern comics' most vital and brilliant creators, including Jaime Hernandez, Gilbert Hernandez, Chris Ware, Daniel Clowes, Joe Sacco, Carol Tyler, and Reason's own Peter Bagge. Publications of Robert Crumb, Charles Schulz, and others have established the publishing house as the medium's top archivist and curator as well.

We Told You So: Comics As Art is an excellent oral history of Fantagraphics by Tom Spurgeon and Michael Dean. Histories of artsy young rebels changing the world are too often self-indulgent and unconvincing, or vaguely tawdy and juvenile. We Told You So, though, makes a compelling case for the revolutionary nature of the undertaking while being pleasingly self-aware about the childish absurdity of the flawed humans involved.

Fantagraphics, a portmanteau of fantasy and graphics, turned out to be a marvelously apt name. The notion of comics as a rich, vast literary art was pretty much just Gary Groth's fantasy. Forty years down the line, it's wonderfully real.




Revisiting Restrictions on the Right to Bear Arms

2017-03-22T06:00:00-04:00

You can't legally own a gun if you have been convicted of most felonies with a potential sentence of more than one year of imprisonment (or, if it's a misdemeanor, more than two years). Federal law, at 922(g)(1) of the U.S. Code, makes that clear. But some offenders who were banned from possessing firearms have succeeded in getting lower courts and a federal appeals court to agree that the statute can, in certain applications, violate people's Second Amendment rights.

In January, the federal government applied for certiorari to the Supreme Court in Binderup v. Holder, which consolidates two such cases.

One of the plaintiffs is Daniel Binderup, who had a consensual but illegal sexual relationship with a 17-year-old in 1998. He was sentenced to probation for three years under a misdemeanor conviction. The federal government believes this bars him from legal gun ownership forever, as it was a crime for which he could have been (though he wasn't) given over two years' incarceration.

The other plaintiff is Julio Suarez, who was found with a gun in his car in Maryland without a carry license. He was given 180 days of prison in a suspended sentence, plus a fine and probation.

Attorney Alan Gura, who won two previous Supreme Court cases for Second Amendment rights—Heller in 2008 and McDonald in 2010—is one of Binderup's lawyers. At issue, he says, is whether 922(g)(1) should cover people whose crimes present no evidence of danger to the public, now that gun ownership has been recognized by the Heller decision as an individual constitutional right.

One of the court filings from Binderup's legal team sums up the relevant issue well: "not one word of the Government's brief discusses the critical issue in this as-applied Second Amendment challenge: whether Daniel Binderup's possession of firearms would be in any way dangerous."

In a complicated September 2016 decision, an en banc panel of the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals declared that Binderup's and Suarez's convictions "were not serious enough to strip them of their Second Amendment rights." Reasons given included that the offenses were nonviolent and earned light sentences.

The government hopes the Supreme Court will reconsider, and its certiorari petition spells out what's at stake from its perspective: "Section 922(g)(1) is by far the most frequently applied…firearms disqualification, forming the basis for thousands of criminal prosecutions and tens of thousands of firearm-purchase denials each year."

Gura already has other 922(g)(1) challenges in process and indicates many more could be waiting in the wings.




Bear

2017-02-01T12:00:00-05:00

(image) Robert Greenfield's Bear: The Life and Times of Augustus Owsley Stanley III (Thomas Dunne) is the first biography of America's most legendary LSD manufacturer and sound engineer for the Grateful Dead, occupations melded in mutual desire to blow minds. Grandson of a Kentucky governor, the outlaw chemist was eventually caught. But given the enormous extent of his illegal warping of the consciousness of the '60s generation—likely 10 million doses' worth—it's almost a miracle that he served only three years in prison for his crimes against the "establishment" in all its manifestations, political, intellectual, and spiritual.




Did the Libertarian Party Blow It in 2016?

2017-01-07T07:00:00-05:00

Objectively speaking, 2016 was the Libertarian Party's best year ever. It was also a savage disappointment. On the positive side, the presidential ticket of two former Republican governors, Gary Johnson of New Mexico and William Weld of Massachusetts, received more than 4.46 million votes, amounting (as of press time) to 3.28 percent of the national haul, smashing the party's previous highs of 1.28 million and 1.06 percent, respectively. The L.P. nominee was on the ballot in all 50 states and the District of Columbia for the first time since 2000, and he outperformed the Green Party's Jill Stein in each one. "We are the only political party in the country that's growing," Libertarian Party National Chair Nicholas Sarwark crowed the morning after the election. "We've tripled our vote totals [over] 2012.…We control a bloc of the electorate that covers the spread in almost all if not all of the battleground states. We've beaten the other third party...in every single state." For the first time, the L.P. now has more than a half-million registered voters. The Johnson/Weld campaign raised around $12 million, according to internal accounts (the final Federal Election Commission reports have not yet been filed). That destroys the previous record of $3.5 million, set in 1980 (and $2.1 million of the 1980 total came from billionaire vice-presidential candidate David Koch). The national party pulled in nearly $3 million in additional donations this year, too. U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller of Alaska received 30 percent of the vote in his race, the highest such total in party history—especially impressive as he had both a Republican and a Democratic opponent. (Generally, if an L.P. candidate for any legislative seat gets double-digit percentages, it's because one of the major parties sat the race out.) GOP defections in 2016 also gave the L.P. sitting state legislators in Nevada, Nebraska, and Utah. All told, the party has come a long way since its founding in 1971, when a small gang of dreamers hoped it would become a vehicle to get press attention for libertarian ideas. Still, measured against expectations—let alone the basic standard that successful political parties must win elections—the Libertarian Party had its most disappointing year ever. "We wanted to win, and we didn't achieve that goal," Johnson's campaign manager, Ron Nielson, acknowledged shortly after the election. "We were hoping to get into the presidential debate, and no matter how hard we tried we could not achieve that goal. After that our goal was to get 5 percent, and for the last 45 days we pushed toward that effort, which was entirely achievable but for the fact that the election came down to such a tight margin between Clinton and Trump. That put pressure on third-party support, and a lot of Johnson support moved in the end toward Trump, or possibly chose not to participate." While 3.28 percent marked an all-time high for the party, it was also just a third of the campaign's highest polling average, which came in late July. All summer long Johnson had avoided the typical third-party fade, with such forecasters as FiveThirtyEight projecting a finish higher than 7 percent for months on end. But the plates came crashing down over the final eight weeks, prompting much anguish and fingerpointing among activists and supporters. "The Libertarian Party," wrote 2016 L.P. presidential runner-up Austin Petersen on Election Day, "has blown a chance that it may never have again in my lifetime." There was plenty of bad news to go along with Johnson's late collapse. One of the party's sitting state legislators, Utah Sen. Mark Madsen, did not run for re-election and will be gone in January. A second, Nevada Assemblyman John Moore, suffered what might be a historic mangling for an incumbent, finishing a distant third place with just 7 percent of the vote. (The third legislator, Nebraska Sen. Laura Ebke, faces re-election in 2018.) The party still has precious few elected off[...]



Good Vibrations

2016-12-30T21:00:00-05:00

(image) Mike Love, the nasal singer and frequent lyricist for the Beach Boys, is one of the most hated men in rock. The early reaction to his memoir Good Vibrations (Blue Rider) suggests that the book isn't going to change that. Love and his cousin Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys' main composer and vocal arranger, are painted in fan history as, respectively, the Antichrist and the man who walks on water.

Wilson represents sensitivity and artistic exploration in this saga; Love, brash showmanship and a bourgeois approach to entertainment as a business. It took both men to create and maintain The Beach Boys as America's longest-lasting and still quite successful band; Love is proud that 2015, 53 years into their career, saw the largest number of Beach Boys performances ever.

Love admits some of the more far-out music his cousin made didn't necessarily thrill him, a sin to the Wilson fanatics who see him as a Tinker Bell who must be believed in to thrive. But reading the story of Love being cheated over writing credits and suffering bandmates (and cousins) who indulged in debilitating drug abuse and descended into mental illness, an honest reader will see that solid dependability has its own merits, in art and life.




California Carry

2016-11-25T12:00:00-05:00

With the help of the California Rifle and Pistol Association, four people are suing the state's attorney general and Los Angeles County's sheriff over a set of restrictive policies that combine, they argue, to rob them of their Second Amendment rights.

Flanagan v. Harris challenges the fact that California heavily limits the open carry of firearms, and L.A. County makes concealed carry very difficult as well. Together, the suit states, those state and local policies mean "the vast majority of the population…cannot obtain a license to publicly carry a firearm."

A recent federal case in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, Peruta, upheld restrictions similar to Los Angeles' and concluded that concealed carry was definitely not protected by the Second Amendment, in that court's opinion. The precedent, which covers California, will likely make winning Flanagan a lot harder, though the Peruta decision acknowledges that the open-carry question remains undecided.

Flanagan's plaintiffs hope to establish that the Constitution does protect a right to carry a gun for self-defense in public in some manner, whether concealed or open. Lower courts have offered contradictory answers to that question, making this ripe for eventually appearing before the Supreme Court.




American Communism

2016-11-20T06:00:00-05:00

We Are As Gods: Back to the Land in the 1970s on the Quest for a New America, by Kate Daloz, PublicAffairs, 355 pages, $26.99 In 1971, a young man named Bernie Sanders visited Myrtle Hill Farm, a rural Vermont commune for disaffected white middle-class kids. Its residents' back-to-the-land lifestyle was meant to free them from a culture that had come, in the midst of war and racial unrest, to seem "an unstoppable torrent of death and destruction, all for no reason." Myrtle Hill had an all-are-welcome policy—for three days. Then the core owners would decide by consensus whether you were cool to hang around. Sanders' tendency to just sit around talking politics and avoid actual physical labor got him the boot. That's just one of the stories in Kate Daloz's We Are As Gods, a loving but honest history of hippie communes in Vermont in the 1970s. Daloz has the journalist's gift for getting people to explain themselves, the historian's ability to explain the context in which they made their choices, and the novelist's power for revealing character through action, plot, and the perfectly chosen detail. While she focuses on a small group of communal and quasi-communal rural homesteads within a few miles of each other in Vermont—one of which housed her parents, Judy and Larry—Daloz explains that her characters represented a large and unprecedented cultural and demographic shift. The decision to build a saner, purer way of life away from urban civilization and private property was "being made almost simultaneously by thousands of other young people all across the country at the same moment for almost the same reason," she writes. No other point in American history, Daloz says, saw so much deurbanization, with as many as a million young Americans going back to the land. Almost all of them, she notes, were from middle-class white backgrounds; most were well-educated, with no fear that they couldn't make their way quite well in normal society. This gave them a safety net "that made such radical choices possible." Their motive was liberty—the freedom to control their own environment, education, technology, diet, productivity. (To the significant number of draft dodgers and teen runaways involved, their very liberty to live free of violence was at stake.) But though this is not Daloz's central point, her fine-grained narrative shows that being free of the technologies and wealth thrown off by the national and international division of labor carried with it its own tyranny. Many of these young communalists believed their world was doomed, whether through nuclear war, fascistic repression, or ecological megadeath. Learning how to live off the land, then, was about survival itself, not just ideological self-satisfaction. One of this book's main characters was driven to rural Vermont by the realization that if the industrial civilization that was all he knew broke down, he'd "just fucking die. You'd just stand there and die." He felt it his duty to thrive off only the soil, water, and animals on his property with techniques that didn't require energy or fuel from the outside world. But as everyone in We Are As Gods soon learned, a small group of human beings pitted against nature were at a far greater disadvantage than they dreamed. Despite the valorization of Stewart Brand's Whole Earth Catalog and its ethos of learning to master the tools and technologies of self-sufficient living, far too many people attracted to the movement knew—as Robert Houriet, one of the original chroniclers of the scene, put it—all about the Tarot but nothing about how to fix a pump. Myrtle Hill outlasted the vast majority of similar communes that arose at the same time. Its rise and fall, from 1970 to the mid-'80s, is the spine of the book's narrative. (Daloz notes that groups with a unified and specific religious or sociological goal tended to last longer than ones with the pu[...]



Bitcoin Vindication

2016-11-01T12:00:00-04:00

In 2014, the Internal Revenue Service declared that bitcoins are property but not money. Florida Circuit Court Judge Teresa Pooler decided in July that if that's so, then Michell Espinoza can't be guilty of acting as an unlicensed money transmitter or money launderer for selling bitcoins to a cop.

A police officer exchanged cash for the cryptocurrency with Espinoza on multiple occasions, at one point saying he would buy credit card numbers online with it. Espinoza was eventually arrested for money laundering and for unlawfully engaging in business as a money transmitter. But since he did not receive the cash "for the purpose of transmitting same to a third party," Judge Pooler wrote, he is not a "money transmitter"—just a guy selling a legal commodity.

"The Florida Legislature may choose," Pooler wrote, "to adopt statutes regulating virtual currency in the future." But for now, "attempting to fit the sale of Bitcoin into a statutory scheme regulating money services businesses" won't fly. Nor did hearing the cop say he would use bitcoin to do something illegal make Espinoza a "money launderer."

Brian Bieber, a Miami lawyer who wrote an amicus brief in the case, says the decision is "definitely a big deal" in the bitcoin world. If the cryptocurrency were "considered money, it opens it up to other potential restrictive regulations and can increase the probability of hampering the free trade that bitcoin users now enjoy."




High Frontiers in Science

2016-11-01T12:00:00-04:00

(image) The counterculture of the 1960s and '70s summoned by the word groovy is saddled with a reputation as overly mystical and viewing science with suspicion. A wonderfully varied new anthology—Groovy Science (University of Chicago Press), edited by David Kaiser and W. Patrick McCray—demonstrates that hippies in fact brought science and technology to bear in their own ways, for their own goals.

Some of those ways are still mere curiosities, like physician John Lilly's attempts to talk to high dolphins and psychiatrist Immanuel Velikovsky's hugely popular attempts to rewrite standard history and astronomy to justify the Bible.

But some efforts inspired by the quest for individual or communal grooviness, from surfboard production to artisanal cheese to ecologically minded industrial design to home birthing, used personalized knowledge and technology to make the world better, or at least more interesting, for us all.




No Pot Campaigning

2016-10-01T12:00:00-04:00

It has been legal to run a medical marijuana business in Illinois since the start of 2014. But it has also been illegal for businesses in the industry to donate to a political campaign in the state, or for candidates to accept such a donation, either directly or via a Political Action Committee.

Two Libertarian Party politicians, Claire Ball and Scott Schluter, are now suing to challenge this law. As of press time they were waiting for a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois to decide on their motion for summary judgment.

In that motion, they point out that the law bans "one class of political speakers…from engaging in the same sort of political association that is typically recognized and free from abridgement." This is supposed to combat corruption, but Ball and Schluter argue that it instead "silences emerging voices and hinders competitive campaigns by unorthodox candidates. Under the First Amendment, this cannot stand."

Individuals involved in such businesses can still donate under the Illinois law, but the plaintiffs argue that per the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, a corporation or business "enjoys its own ability to engage in political free speech."

Democratic State Rep. Lou Lang, a lead sponsor of the bill, admitted to WSIU-FM last year that "conservative" and "hesitant" colleagues were supposed to be appeased into supporting medical pot by this First Amendment–violating rule.




The Libertarian Party's Very Good Year

2016-10-01T12:00:00-04:00

Nicholas Sarwark was elected to his second term as chair of the Libertarian Party's National Committee at the party's Orlando convention in May. At the same event, former GOP governors Gary Johnson and William Weld were chosen as the Libertarian presidential ticket; the pair were soon getting as much as 11 percent of the vote in some national polls. Senior Editor Brian Doherty interviewed Sarwark by phone in June about his party's potential banner year. Q: What are some objective signs of the L.P.'s success? A: Revenue is nearly double this year compared to the same time in 2012. [Dues-paying] membership numbers have risen around 46 percent. Our presidential candidate is consistently polling above 10 percent. They are receiving a level of media attention we just have not seen. The media are treating them like serious candidates, like on the CNN town hall where they got hit with a victim of the [Orlando nightclub] Pulse shooting and a mom whose kid was brain-damaged by heroin. That's what you have to expect if you're being treated seriously. Johnson and Weld are the most serious, credible, sane ticket available, with more executive experience than the major party candidates combined. Q: At that town hall, Johnson gave an answer about legalizing drugs that didn't jibe with the party platform, saying he's only for legalizing marijuana. Was that a problem? A: That town hall was for us to introduce ourselves to the American people. Johnson and Weld were not talking to Libertarians, but to everyone else, and in talking to non-Libertarian friends, that town hall was a great success. The impression people got was that these are the real deal, that this is not a bullshit ticket. Q: How connected are the party and the presidential campaign? A: We cooperate closely on ballot access. We have a shared interest in having them be on the ballot in all 50 states, and we are still on track to do it. But [the national party] does our own messaging, which is often in synergy with the presidential candidate but maybe not always. One of the party's biggest expenses is ballot access. About 20–25 percent of our take goes to jumping through hoops the major parties create to make things hard on challengers. Q: Why does this seem like such a good year for the L.P.? A: Our candidates are sensible and sane and have as a fundamental principle the idea "Don't hurt anyone and don't take their stuff," which resonates. But people won't change until the pain of the status quo is sufficient to allow [people] to consider change, and that's what the unpopularity of [Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump] is doing. After that first time voting Libertarian and the world hasn't ended and people aren't dying in the streets, it will be easier to vote L.P. again. I keep hearing people say they're thrilled to cast a vote for something they believe in rather than just against someone. Coattails can go both ways. Having a menu of down-ticket candidates makes voters see an "L" in many races. It shows we are serious and makes it easier to pull the lever. We're not a one-shot or a cult of personality. We can even become the second party in lopsided states [where one of the majors doesn't compete in many races]. We have two sitting state legislators [in Nevada and Nebraska] who switched parties. This could be the first signs of an exodus to us [A third did so in Utah in July] when people realize a party that encompasses Rand Paul and Trump is not a real coalition—it's nothing. [Libertarian-leaning] Republicans are constantly looking to see if a knife is being put in their back by their own party. [...]



Maine Gets Naloxone

2016-08-01T12:00:00-04:00

Maine's Republican Gov. Paul LePage seems to really want opioid users to die. After his state suffered 272 overdose deaths in 2015, the legislature sensibly and humanely passed a law allowing pharmacists to dispense naloxone, a drug that can actually reverse opioid overdoses in process, without a prescription.

In April, LePage vetoed the bill. In his view, he explained, "Naloxone does not truly save lives; it merely extends them until the next overdose." This, he said, "serves only to perpetuate the cycle of addiction." But later the same month, the legislature overrode the veto by vast margins: 29–5 in the Senate and 132–14 in the House.

Naloxone is available from pharmacists without a prescription in 35 states. In recognition of its lifesaving properties—and of America's 200 percent increase in opioid overdose deaths this century—various interest groups, from patients to urban health officials, are urging the Food and Drug Administration to make it available over-the-counter nationally, with no need to deal with a pharmacist at all.




The Last Socioeconomic System on Earth

2016-08-01T12:00:00-04:00

(image) The Fox Network sitcom The Last Man on Earth, wrapping its second season, started as a common childish fantasy: What if the world were ours to play with, no worries about how it affected anyone else? Will Forte as everylastman Phil Miller has fun with this premise, but very quickly the title becomes a misnomer as Forte's willful, envious, selfish character tries (and often fails) to build a healthy community with a wife and a bickering circle of companions.

Storytelling about a small band reforging civilization is always ripe for socio-economic theorizing. The most interesting lesson here is an unforced hallelujah to modern industrial capitalism. The survivors of the show's mystery plague manage to (improbably) continue thriving off the leftover wonders of our civilization, from packaged food to fuel and jet skis. The hidden message: The only way to survive outside the extended division of labor in markets is to still have free access to all it produced.




Academic Hackers

2016-07-01T12:00:00-04:00

Last year the FBI gave computer-security academics an interesting lesson.

When researchers at Carnegie Mellon's Software Engineering Institute were poking around at the popular anonymity software Tor, they found vulnerabilities that allowed them to identify some Tor users who didn't want to be identified. At least one of them, Brian Farrell, was involved with a website known as "Silk Road 2.0" that arose after the feds took down the old Silk Road in 2013. Like its predecessor, this site served as an online black market.

That became more than academic, as revealed in a ruling from Judge Richard Jones during Farrell's subsequent prosecution. The FBI obtained Farrell's I.P. address via subpoena to Carnegie Mellon, Judge Jones revealed. That should put some fear into computer security researchers who would rather not help the government nab people striving for online anonymity.

Some have wondered if money the university received from the Department of Defense might have reduced its willingness to fight the subpoena. Carnegie Mellon wants the world to know that while it lawfully obeys subpoenas, despite the rumors, it does not get paid off by the government for doing so.

The Tor Project announced that the vulnerability discovered by the Carnegie Mellon team "was patched as soon as we learned about it."




Free the Shrinks!

2016-06-01T12:00:00-04:00

In 2010, members of the Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists sent the state attorney general after a failed Republican state Senate candidate. As a result, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has now overturned parts of the state's occupational licensing laws.

When Mary Louise Serafine was running for office, her campaign website identified her as a "psychologist." But she is not a licensed psychologist in Texas, nor does she have a degree in psychology. When the attorney general sent her a threatening letter about using that term, Serafine sued, insisting the law she allegedly violated "infringed her political speech, commercial speech, equal protection rights, and right to earn a living."

In the Fifth Circuit's judgment, a state can't enforce laws "limiting the ability of individuals to dispense personal advice about mental or emotional problems based on knowledge gleaned in a graduate class." Since Serafine was communicating not to a client as a psychologist but to voters at large, the court found no supposed "professional speech doctrine" applies, and her statement was entitled to First Amendment protection.

Under the law as written, the court noted, prosecutors could conceivably target "leaders for [Alcoholics Anonymous], Weight-Watchers, or other self-help groups," or "someone who has taken graduate classes in psychology, fitness, or counseling and has written a marriage-advice column or parenting blog." That too, it ruled, violates the First Amendment.